Saturday, July 13, 2013

Promised land for ex-Caroni workers; no election gimmick says PM

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar delivers hope and fulfils a government's obligations
The government of Trinidad and Tobago kept its promise Friday to former sugar workers and distributed legal documents to 405 workers for agricultural and housing plots of land in Reform Village, near Gasparillo, and in Central Trinidad - 273 people for housing and 132 were for agriculture.

It was an emotional experience for both Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessr and the people who had waited 10 years for this day.

In a speech at the event, the Prime Minister called it a "blessed occasion". She said, "Today, when you get your lease, and you go on the land that is now your own, when you take a handful of earth from your land, from your place, and lift it up to the heavens, you can give thanks and reverence to the Almighty."

She slammed the Manning PNM government for closing the sugar industry and then for finding every excuse to deprive the former sugar workers of the lands that were rightfully theirs under a Voluntary Separation Agreement between the government of the former employees.

"Closing the sugar industry was only one part of the hurt," she said. "What was worse is that while you lived in hope that the government would keep its promise, it allowed a State company to engage in the worst form of waste and corruption."

She said the Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBD), which was responsible for developing the agriculture two-acre plots and the residential lots, wasted $1.2 billion and not one lot was delivered.

"And the government did not care about your plight. Not even a court judgment made a difference. On December 7, 2007, Justice Lennox Deyalsingh ordered Government to complete the distribution of all the plots by June 2008.

"You would think that a government that cared about the people and had an obligation to keep its contract with the people would respond positively to a court order. IT DID NOT.

"Instead, it appealed the decision while leaving EMBD to squander more money."

She said by the time the government changed the previous government had delivered 800 leases. However, the people who got them were unable to do anything with the land because of the poor infrastructure done by EMBD on the 2-acre plots.

"I am sure you have seen these areas with PVC pipes sticking out of the ground. They should have been connected to underground sewerage and wastewater facilities but we found nothing underground. 

"EMBD contractors also built under-ground corridors with water and electrical lines on the same corridor. Roads were so narrow that two vehicles could not pass at the same time," she said.

"When we came into office we found that the EMBD had built up a debt of $4 billion dollars. And we also found that in the two months before the election they handed out contracts amounting to over $200 million dollars without following any proper tendering procedure. And they covered their tracks. When we assumed office we were unable to find documentation to support the expenditure by EMBD," the Prime Minister stated.

She said this is why it has taken so long to deliver the lands. "We have had to clean up their mess, pay off the hundred of millions of dollars owing to contractors and suppliers and spend millions more to correct the defective works on the agricultural and residential sites."

She told reporters afterwards, "All the leases will be delivered. It is not about anybody’s call. It is about the call of the people and the promises that we made. We continue to deliver on that promise. This is just a part of a work in progress. It is not the first time we have given out leases and it would not be the last time.”

She added, “It is not just about elections” but fulfilling an election promise.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai