There is an issue that is very close to my heart that I want to speak to you about tonight.
It concerns the payment by the government to the former cane farmers of Caroni 1975 Limited.
When the PNM government closed Caroni in 2003 they made a number of promises to the former Caroni Workers and to cane farmers.
Not one of them was kept.
Do you recall when the former Caroni workers were successful before Justice Deyalsingh and the government was ordered to give them their leases, the PNM government appealed the matter.
It was my government upon taking office in 2010 that withdrew that appeal and gave the workers their leases. That is how they have their leases today.
The PNM did the same with the former cane farmers. Promise after promise and nothing was done.
These cane farmers last sold cane in 2007 and since then they have been struggling without an income.
It was my government that decided to put an end to their suffering.
As Prime Minister I directed the then Minster of Agriculture Devant Maharaj and the then Minister of Planning Dr. Tewarie to find a solution to this problem once and for all for the cane farmers.
In 2015 my government came to an agreement with the cane farmers and the European Union to compensate them for the losses that they incurred when the PNM closed Caroni.
The agreement was that the government would pay the former cane farmers 130 million dollars in three tranches.
This 130 million dollars was to benefit 3,481 farmers.
That is 3481 families.
This 130 million was to be paid in three tranches of 27 million, 75 million and 28 million.
The first two tranches were to be paid in 2015 and the third in 2016.
My government made the first payment to the farmers in July 2015 of 27 million dollars.
We did not get the chance to make the second payment of 75 million dollars before the election because the monies for the first and second tranche were coming from the European Union.
By the date of the election we had not yet recieved the second tranche of 8 million euros.
Dr. Rowley in Couva in August 2015 before the election said that he will honor the promise to pay the cane farmers made by my government.
Since then, the Rowley government has been fabricating all manner of reasons not to pay the cane farmers.
In January when I observed the farmers were not paid I asked Dr. Rowley in Parliament when will the cane farmers be paid and his response was that he was following legal advice that we should not have paid the cane farmers and he is following that advice not to pay them.
Dr. Tewarie wrote to Dr. Rowley in February of this year asking him to settle this matter but to date we have received no response.
In March the cane farmers protested in Port-of-Spain asking that they be paid.
When this protest took place the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General were quick to tell the public that there were conditions to be met and my government did not meet those conditions and that is why the farmers were not paid.
I want to tell you tonight that was a total untruth on the part of the Attorney General and the Minister of Finance. My government met all the conditions .
I have here a Memo to the P S Ministry of Agriculture dated 11th March 2016 advising the PS that the performance indicators for the disbursement of the European Union Grant Funding have all been met.
There are three performance indicators and all have been met (Thanks to former Min Devant Maharaj)
(i) 2000 acres of former caroni lands under agricultural production
The total lands under cultivation as at 31st May 2015 is 2215 acres as follows-
-Caroni Green Ltd and Mon Jaloux 142 acres
-Commercial large farms 961 acres
-Agricultural sites (2 acre plots) 1112 acres
A total of 2215 acres so it was in excess of the required 2000 acres
(ii) Local Agricultural Production to be increased by 10%
In fact was increased by 12.7%
(iii) Integrated Water Management Plan for 70% of Caroni lands used for agricultural purposes inclusive of waste water management.
This plan was completed and officially submitted to the then Ministry of Food Production and sent to the European Union as evidence of this Performance Indicator being completed
The MOF and the PM is saying they have not received the money from the European Union.
We have been reliably informed that the 8 million euros form the EU has been received by the government of Trinidad and Tobago.
The government does not want to pay the cane farmers because they want to break their backs.’
Note that government does not have to find this money in its budgeted revenues. It is money sent by the European Union as Grant Funding.
Tonight I call upon Dr. Rowley to make the payment to the cane farmers this week failing which proceedings will be filed bright and early Monday morning to compel the government to pay the cane farmers.
A pre-action protocol letter had been sent to Dr. Rowley on behalf of the cane farmers.
To date they have not responded.
The court papers are ready to be filed but we will give you one last chance.
That money does not belong to you it belongs to the cane farmers and if you don’t want to do it willingly we will invoke the powers of the Court to force you to pay the cane farmers.
I will lead the team of lawyers in this matter to stop the discrimination by the PNM of the former cane farmers in this country.
I assure you the cane farmers will be paid.