Statement by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj:
Yesterday, December 08, 2013 at a Meeting held at the Rienzi Complex, Couva at which addresses were delivered by among others, Mr. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Mr. Basdeo Panday and Mr. Nirvan Maharaj, a number of incorrect and misleading statements were made with particular reference to the distribution of Agricultural and Residential leases to the former Caroni workers as part of their V SEP. These statements were made with the deliberate intention of misleading the former Caroni workers and therefore it is incumbent on the Government to present the facts.
The distribution of agriculture and residential lands to the former Caroni workers was done in accordance with the judgment delivered by the Industrial Court in IRO 9 of 2003 and subsequent agreements reached between Caroni 1975 Ltd. and the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union.
1. One of the terms of the VSEP package was that the Caroni worker if he so wishes could apply for and receives a lease for a 2 acre plot for Agriculture. The lease being offered was the STANDARD AGRICULTURAL LEASE that was being issued for by the state for all state lands. The terms and conditions contained in the deed of lease that are being issued to the Caroni workers are identical to leases issued by the State for ALL State agricultural lands. The ex- Caroni workers are offered nothing less and nothing more. These Deed of Lease allow the ex Caroni workers to approach
any established financial institution to access financing and as such it is incorrect to say that the leases cannot be used to access funding for agricultural entrepreneurial activities . The restrictions that are contained in these leases are the same which applies to all state agricultural leases.
2. While the previous Government had delivered approximately 400 agriculture leases in the seven years after the closure of Caroni, this Government has delivered over 2,000 such leases in three years and is committed to delivering the remaining approximately 4,500 leases before May 2015. It is therefore being economical with the truth that Mr Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj insinuated that these leases were distributed as part of an election PR gimmick, and designed by the PP Government.
Another term of the VSEP package was that each worker is entitled to apply for a residential lot and would qualify for such a lot provided that he/she did not own a house as at 01 January 2003. The terms and conditions for the lease of the Residential land were to be identical to the terms and conditions of leases of land which were being issued by the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Committee. This was what the Union had proposed during the negotiations and this is what was agreed to at the time. While the previous Government did not deliver any Residential leases in the seven years after VSEP, this Government has delivered approximately 2,000 residential leases and is committed to delivering the remaining approximately 5,500 leases before May 2015.
3.0 THE LEASE OF STATE LANDS
It is State Policy NOT to sell state lands and therefore, all the distribution of lands to the former Caroni workers was done through Deed of Lease. In the Deyalsingh judgement in the matter HCA # 3606 of 2003 Justice Deyalsingh delivered judgement for the applicant as follows:
a. A Declaration that the Respondents have deprived the former sugar workers of Caroni 1975 Ltd. who are eligible, of their legitimate expectation to have agricultural plots and / or residential lots conveyed to them by way of lease. It is quite evident based on the Section of the judgement quoted above that even Mr. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was aware that at all times it was the Lease of land that was agreed upon and not the Sale of land and therefore it is misleading to say that the Government is seeking to hoodwink the former Caroni workers by giving them a lease for the land.
It is therefore unfortunate that Messer’s Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Basdeo Panday and Nirvan Maharaj, all of whom are lawyers, would use an important matter such as this to play on the vulnerabilities of the Caroni ex-Workers for simple political mileage.