Dear Editor – I take the opportunity to acknowledge Jacob Ofasia’s question regarding what CEMA is really doing now as appeared in Solomon Star, issue No. 5594.
I believed Jacob’s confusion emanated from his experience of the glory days of CEMA under its commercial trading function when the market network was in placed.
These are the days leading up to the structural change brought about as the result of the government policy decision to liberalize the commercial function in 2002.
For your information, the decision to cease the commercial function follows the government’s privatization policy which aspires to give the opportunity for private sector to undertake the commercial trading function from CEMA.
Also anticipating that the private sector would link with the rural people at the market points to continue the commercial trading and market services left by CEMA. A lot of farmers questioned the closure of the market network which at one stage brought market access closest to their villages.
The timing of the cease of the commercial trading function brought CEMA to its knees especially in the height of the ethnic crises when all the CEMA subsidiary mills at Tenaru on Guadalcanal, Malu’u in Malaita, Kaonasughu in Makira, Choisuel Bay, in Choisuel, Noro in Western, Lata in Temotu and Gojaruru in Isabel have just been established.
The question of the number of mills and the purchase of 3 second hand boats to serve the market network is one which only those who made the decision at that time could answer.
Coupled with the tension was the fall in world copra and Coconut oil (CNO) prices which affected the Russell Islands Plantation Estate(RIPEL) Mill anticipated to absorb the CNO from these newly established mills for export.
The approach to utilize RIPEL channel was based on available infrastructure (reservoir) to store the CNO for tankers to ship for overseas market.
Therefore, CEMA with all its investment was virtually exhausted when copra purchased at the buying points intended to be exported and some fed through the mills came to a sudden halt during the crisis.
Thus the impact upon the current remaining CEMA was a total misfortune when RIPEL came into liquidation and the scheme of arrangement ended in chaos.
The reality on the current CEMA with only the regulatory function without any annual government subvention is one rightly described by the former General Manager during his handover address July 2009 and I quote “ CEMA is like a boat without engine depending on the ocean currents” closed quote.
CEMA was left to struggle with many obligations (outstanding debts) to repay including outstanding commercial contract with one of its key buyer, outstanding power bills, audit bills, land lease charges and many others.
Thus the remaining CEMA which is just a quality assurance body is indeed like a very sick doctor striving for recovery.
Even now there is legal contention over some of its properties in Lunga already sold in an effort to repay some of the outstanding debts incurred during the commercial trading days.
This is despite promises by the government at that time to meet the outstanding commercial obligations of CEMA when it liberalized its commercial function.
The CEMA board and management were left with $9 million debt to shoulder after the liberalization exercise.
Today I am humble to say that the debt is cleared and CEMA is just finding some footing to breathe at least some fresh air. This only happens by the grace of God under major sacrifice.
Therefore, for someone who does not bother to enquire or really know the status of CEMA can truly question the past CEMA from the present one.
To put the story simple “the past CEMA earns money from copra and cocoa export whilst the current CEMA struggles to survive with the little copra and cocoa licence fees and rental of part of its office and shed”.
The past CEMA has money to run farmer trainings but did not assist farmers with dryer parts as indicated.
Dryer parts are sold at the buying points and centre along with copra and cocoa sacks at subsidized prices.
Current CEMA does not sell copra and cocoa sacks. The past CEMA hires its own accounting firm and audit firm while the current CEMA could not even afford adequate Accounts staff.
The past CEMA housed its entire staff in fully furnished houses whilst the current could only accommodate 4 of its 15 staff in poorly run down condition.
The past CEMA meets all the power and water bills for its Manager, the current CEMA meets only specified portion of the bill.
The past CEMA during board meetings usually accommodates its provincial based board of directors in the Kitano Mendana Hotel, while the current CEMA resorts to rest houses.
Past CEMA provides daily transport for staff and staff’s school children but current CEMA was only fortunate that the AusAID Cocoa Livelihood Improvement Project (CLIP) was able to donate its two used vehicles for CEMA operation at the end of their program in 2012.
I pray that Jacob and any others who do not know the situation of CEMA would catch a glimpse of the difference.
Maybe the name needs to be changed as it has deceived many to be still in the olden days of CEMA.
General Manager (Acting)
Commodities Export Marketing Authority