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Ex-Caroni workers seek outstanding State leases

Published: 
Saturday, July 21, 2018
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ATGWTU President Nirvan Maharaj, second from right, and 70-year-old Chano Mahabir, right, along with scores of ex-sugar workers outside the Ministry of Agriculture, Chaguanas, during their protest yesterday. Photo by:SHASTRI BOODAN

Former sugar workers marched in front of the Ministry of Agriculture in Chaguanas yesterday demanding to meet with Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat to settle the distribution of outstanding land for residences and farms.

The workers want the Ministry to expedite the process of delivering outstanding housing and agricultural lands to over 4,000 workers of former sugar producer Caroni (1975) Limited that folded operations in July 2003.

Nirvan Maharaj, the head of the All Trinidad General Workers Union, planned on delivering a letter with a list of demands to Rambharat. However, Maharaj and scores of demonstrators were met with padlocked gates.

After some deliberations, Maharaj and 70-year-old Chano Mahabir were allowed to enter the compound and deliver the list of demands to a woman, who identified herself as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry. Rambharat was attending a lease distribution ceremony hosted by the Land Settlement Agency in Port-of-Spain.

Maharaj said about 25 per cent of the former sugar workers are now deceased. He said there is the need to allocate adequate funding for the continued infrastructural development on both agricultural and residential sites. Maharaj said there are still 1,200 ex-sugar workers who were allocated lands and then dislocated and have not been reallocated as yet.

He said there are still 1,198 ex-Caroni workers who are still to draw for an initial allocation of lots and plots. They are also seeking “adequate funding should be allocated for the provision of just and fair compensation to ex-Caroni workers who are willing to give up their two-acre plots if requested by the State since there are many who after waiting for 15 years are now unable to engage in agricultural activities.”

The union also wants the Commissioner of State Lands to be immediately mandated to transfer lands to relatives or other persons so they can receive fair compensation. The union said 116 ex-sugar workers have not gotten any reimbursement from the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Committee for land which they had already paid for.

Maharaj said he believes this is a plot by party financiers of both the PNM and the UNC to frustrate the process in order to get their hands on the land. He said he was disgusted that ex-sugar workers now in their late 60s and 70s have to resort to protest action.

“I will ask them to pray to God, God almighty, to put a sense of mercy in the minds of the government and opposition to come together and give what is legally due to these people.” Maharaj said he also wants the MPs in the sugar belt to raise the issue of compensation as a matter of national importance. Maharaj said if the Ministry does not respond in 30 days, the union would then plan on marching into Port-of-Spain to meet with the Prime Minister.

The march commenced shortly after 10 am at the Price Plaza roundabout and concluded around 11.30 am when Maharaj and Mahabir left the Ministry.

Contacted for a response, Rambharat said “He (referring to Nirvan Maharaj) should have attended all the lease distribution events we held at Rienzi Complex. He never accepted one invitation. By end of June 2018, I had distributed over 7,000 lease documents to former Caroni workers. That is from November 2015 to June 2018. Since December 2017, I have distributed 1,500 of that 7,000.”

Rambharat continued: “In December 2016, when I realised we could not locate about 1,800 former workers, we published the names in the newspapers and asked the union for assistance. We got absolutely no help from the union. There are residential leases to be distributed. This is because in UNC-held corporations they failed to issue the statutory approvals. We were able to get that sorted out. Also, because of the allegations of corruption in the development of residential land by Estate Management Business and Development Company, the completion process has been delayed.”

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