COVID crisis affecting Panama debt payment

Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha says the payment of the $1.9 billion Panama owes Guyana’s rice millers has been delayed due to COVID-19.

During an interview with DPI on Monday, Minister Mustapha said the Spanish-speaking country had acknowledged the arrears, and has since committed to paying the sum.

Minister of Agriculture Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha displays a copy of the letter which was dispatched to Panama

Guyana shipped a substantial quantity of rice to Panama after contracts were signed in 2018 and 2019. However, only part of the payment has so far been made on the 2018 agreement.

In a letter to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) dated March 29, 2021, the Panamanian authorities stated that while they are willing to honour any pending account with Guyana, they still must comply with their laws.

“Since the contracts with Guyana Rice Development Board were concluded in another Government period, we must comply with the respective authorisations and approvals,” the letter stated.  

The letter also said COVID-19 has forced the country into a state of emergency, and the Government has had to channel all efforts and financial resources into solving the sanitary problems and the consequences on the population.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, with this letter we want to assure you that we will be responding to your request. I have instructed that the accounts be reviewed, without entire disposition to generate a payment process, as applicable by law,” the Panamanians have said.

The PPP/C Government since taking office, has taken robust steps to ensure that Panama pays the outstanding sums.

On November 27, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dispatched a letter to Panama urging it to honour its obligations. This measure was taken as the Government continues to take urgent steps to retrieve the outstanding sums.

President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali had also intervened.

Despite the circumstances, the Panamanian Government continues to show interest in Guyana’s rice.

“They have also indicated their interest that they want to continue with the contract that we have but I am waiting for this meeting and IICA [Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture] is making the arrangement,” Minister Mustapha explained.

Minister Mustapha blames the previous APNU+AFC Government for the delays, noting that if it had shown interest in the farmers, the dilemma would not have existed. The previous administration said that it was not responsible for farmers being owed by millers for rice to shipped to Panama.