Mr President, before I get to the substantive issue allow me to put on record this signal fact, This People’s Partnership Government embodies the tenants of what is a Responsible Government.
“Responsible Government” may be defined as the conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability. Mr President, this manifests itself in several ways, such as; Ministers account to Parliament for their decisions and for the performance of their departments.
Mr President, I can say without any fear of contradiction that under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC we on this side have consistently demonstrated the basic tenants of “Responsible Government”.
Now, Mr President, as you may be well aware, there has been a volley of miss-information and political mischief circulating in the public domain as it pertains to the official land assignment for lands located in the Felicity area. Mr. President as a Responsible Government please allow me to set the record straight and bring this situation to some sanity.
At the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited, the last PNM Administration assigned 300 acres of land in the Felicity area, Mr President, Felicity three (3), to be more specific, for the purpose of developing RESIDENTIAL PLOTS.
The then PNM administration then agreed to allocate 40% of these residential plots to the Caroni Workers they had summarily fired a few years earlier as part of their VSEP packages. The then PNM Government cited cost as one the main reasons why these lands could not have been developed for the Ex-Caroni Workers.
Mr President, although promising these 420 Ex-Caroni Workers to develop residential plots as part their VSEP packages, the last PNM administration refused to deliver on that promise.
As fate would have it Mr President, under the last PNM administration, squatters (REPEAT) moved in to occupy and farm the residential plots left abandoned by the PNM. Mr President it should be noted that at some point during the illegal occupation of these lands that the then Chairman of EMBD, Noel Garcia, entered into negotiations with the then President of the ASTT, Dana Sookoo, for the continued farming of said lands with the caveat that the lands being occupied by the squatters are residential lands and must be returned to the government when need.
Mr President, this was the verbal agreement made under the last PNM government with respect to the use of the lands at Felicity 3, that is, the squatters may use the lands assigned for residential plots, knowing full-well that said lands may be repatriated at any time.
Mr President, while the government worked on addressing the deficiencies of getting the lands ready for distribution the Ex-Caroni Workers and taking into consideration the verbal agreement between EMBD and ASTT that allowed farming activities to continue, the then Minister of Agriculture, Senator the Honourable Vasant Bharrat, sort to facilitate, on a temporary basis, the access to market issues that prevailed at that time.
Mr President it should be stressed that at no time was that actions taken by the then Ministry of Agriculture and the current Ministry of Food Production a signal that the agreement brokered between EMBD and ASSTT had varied.
Therefore, Mr President, through you I’ll like to let the goodly opposition Senator affected by all of this to NOTE, that unlike what his Captain putting in the media, neither myself, Ministry of food Production nor this Peoples Partnership Government hold any personal brief or ill-will towards him. The facts as presented, Mr President, as per their agreement with EMBD it is now time to consider other alternatives.
Mr President, you and this honourable Senate should also know, that the Ex-Caroni Workers who are the original beneficiaries of the lands in contention, have already been assigned their lot numbers, but more importantly, they received the WORD of the last PNM government that these lands were theirs. In short Mr President these Ex-Caroni Workers have a legitimate expectation; a legitimate expectation that this Responsible Government is going keep…
Mr President, you would recall that a similar scenario presented itself to us in the particular instance of farmers using lands assigned for housing, in Egypt trace, being moves to and regularized on lands in Soogrim trace. As a Responsible Government we did not destroy the livelihood of these 24 farmers who were using lands illegally in Egypt. Instead we worked with these farmers to have them relocated to more suitable lands where they could continue with their contribution of bringing down the food import bill.
In like manner Mr President, I am happy to report that this Responsible Peoples Partnership Government has established a working group made up of the Ministry of Lands and Marine Affairs, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Ministry of Food Production to explore options for the squatters occupying the lands at Felicity 3. We recognize that Food Production is an important facet to the sustainable development of our Economy.
Once the lands assigned to the Ex-Caroni Workers has been surveyed and properly assigned, the Ministry of Lands and Marine Affairs is prepared to table as one option the consideration to make the remaining 60% available for farming purposes and a possible relocation site for the squatters now occupying Felicity 3
Mr President, I thank you
Senator the Honourable Devant Maharaj,
Minister of Food Production