Minister DEVANT MAHARAJ responds to Dr Rowley’s False Statements
about Tucker Valley lands
Dr. Keith Rowley acted irresponsibly and with malice when he accused the government of Trinidad and Tobago of giving away hundreds of acres of lands to its friends. A close examination of the records show that no such thing happened and that the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration has conducted all its affairs with respect to land leases with transparency, following all the accepted practices.
Dr. Rowley made his malicious and slanderous statement at a PNM public meeting in St Augustine on July 23 where he accused the government of giving away 100 acres of prime land in Tucker Valley without approval of Cabinet. He called it “grand theft of the nation’s patrimony”. That’s a blatant lie.
I wish to make it clear that the Opposition Leader selectively misrepresented his facts and got it wrong and in the process of maligning a Cabinet Minister and a respectable businessman he has shown that he is willing to peddle misinformation to suit his misguided political agenda. Dr. Rowley has never provided a single viable idea for the development of Trinidad and Tobago. Instead he continues to mislead the population with fabrications.
Unlike the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration in which he was a senior cabinet minister, our People’s Partnership government led by Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been aggressively developing agriculture to encourage more local food production and cut the country’s huge food import bill. We have been doing it successfully.
Indeed, for the first time in twenty-one (21) years, due to these policies, the government of Trinidad and Tobago has been able to keep the food price inflation rate at single digits for the first five consecutive months of the year.Just to elaborate, for January 2014 it was 3.2%; for February 2014 it was 5.2%; for March 2014 it was 6.7%, for April 2014 the figure came in at 4.1% and for May the food inflation rate stood at 3.8%. For the period January 2014 to June 2014 harvests of locally grown produce from the just two of the farms amounted 61,478 kilos. Crops cultivated included commonly used vegetables and grains such as beans, bodi, cucumber, cabbage, caulifower, peppers, lettuce, corn, squash and tomatoes.
Dr Rowley should be the last one to criticise the government on its agriculture policy. He was a member of the PNM cabinet that brought in Cubans in 2009 to set up a mega farm in the same Tucker Valley that yielded nothing; all it did was send $20 million of taxpayers dollars down the drain.
The facts about the lands at Tucker Valley are very different from the malicious story that Dr Rowley wants the public to believe. We did not give away anything; and we did everything with transparency, following all proper procedures.
The Kamla Persad-Bissessar Administration appointed a non-political six-member team of agro-business and corporate leaders to evaluate the Large Land Delivery Programme project and make recommendations about who would get access to the lands. Members of that team came from the public agricultural sector and private enterprise and the selection process was both transparent and documented in the Request For Proposal published in all of the daily newspapers.
This project started in October 2011 with the intention of putting into productive use over 4,000 acres of agricultural lands in Trinidad for Commercial Food Production. We identified eight farm sites comprising a total of 1,473 acres (596 ha).
I wish to state that the Evaluation Committee’s report to the Permanent Secretary was based on careful evaluation and was transparent. This is what the committee stated in its report: “It was the general consensus that Caribbean Chemicals and Agencies Limited should be awarded the 100 acres at Tucker Valley. It was agreed by the committee that Caribbean Chemicals and Agencies Limited were the most experienced of the two proposers interviewed. In addition, the committee agreed that Caribbean Chemicals also demonstrated sound technical capacity, possess as an excellent financial proposal and have very good management team”.
I wish to also make it clear that the Tucker Valley Farm Site falls under the jurisdiction of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) and not the Commissioner of State Lands and as such Caribbean Chemicals was required to enter into a lease arrangement with the CDA.
Although the tender for the Tucker Valley site was awarded to Caribbean Chemicals, the company elected to execute the agricultural lease project through Chaguaramas Farms Ltd. The Deed of Lease dated March 13, 2014, the Chaguaramas Development Authority granted a lease to Chaguaramas Farms Ltd for the use of One hundred (100) acres in Tucker Valley for agricultural purposes.
Dr. Rowley’s statement about “giving away” lands is false and malicious. The facts are clear and I call on Dr. Rowley to cease and desist from spreading his destructive propaganda in an attempt to confuse the electorate. Ironically it was the same Caribbean Chemicals who received 100 acres under the PNM Administration in 2008 in Couva. So while Dr. Rowley was in Cabinet he had no objection to Caribbean Chemicals receiving lands under the PNM he objects when it is under the Peoples Partnership Government.
The private sector has invested millions of dollars in this partnership arrangement, which is a win-win situation for everyone through which citizens benefit from higher quality locally grown produce and lower food prices. Let me make it absolutely clear as well that we have a people-oriented government and our policy is to include the the private sector in our push to increase the volume and variety of produce grown locally. We believe every willing citizen should be able to get involved in agriculture.
Minister of Food Production
Saturday 26th July 2014