There should be an independent inquiry into the workings of the Belle Vue Cane-Farming Co-op Society

Dear Editor,

Mr Balkarran’s letter of March 16 in SN highlighted the farmers’ plight (‘Belle Vue Co-op Society land being taken over’). Mr John’s letter of March 19 traced the Belle Vue Society’s emergence and historic significance (‘The Belle Vue Cane Farmer’s Co-op is more than a regular cooperative society,’ SN).  Mr Inshan’s rebuttal of March 31 to Mr Balkarran’s concerns, indicates that the wagon is running and there is need to get on board with the intent of highlighting what may be construed as intransigence on the part of the Ministry of Labour and the Cooperative Department in addressing this situation (‘The holder of a valid licence cannot trespass on their own land,’ SN). Let me first put things in perspective.

The Belle Vue Pilot Scheme was a cane-farming experiment by the sugar industry in 1956. My father was one of 55 farmers drawn from the various sugar estates and allotted fifteen acres of land to cultivate and supply the Wales Estates with canes. The same is equally true for each of the other farmers.  Presently, only five of these original farmers remain alive.

It is necessary to recognize, therefore, that ownership of the estates of the 50 deceased farmers would naturally have changed hands over time. Some farmers’ wives who are alive are the present beneficiaries of those interests, while the children are the de facto beneficiaries where both farmer and spouse are deceased. (I write in the capacity of one such beneficiary.) In some instances farmers are known to have legally sold their interest to other stakeholders, and this is understood.

In 2009 our estate along with several others were taken over by the Society.  This take-over was challenged and the matter was allegedly arbitrated under the auspices of the Co-op Department and a ruling was given in favour of Bellevue Co-op Society.

In February 2010 I dispatched a letter to the Chief Cooperatives Officer, copied to the Minister of Labour and the Registrar of the Supreme Court.  This letter expressed my intent to challenge the arbitration decision and requested the following documents to equip myself for anticipated litigation:

1.  A certified copy of the Affidavit of Service or like document used by the Cane-farming Society to notify this estate beneficiary of the intent to take over the said estate.

2. A certified copy of the transcript of the arbitration hearing which was conducted.

3. A certified copy of the arbitration decision and written reasons.

4. A list of the parties who were present at the arbitration hearing.

5. A list of evidence presented at the said arbitration and by whom.

6. Notice of all bids received on said property and how the process to redistribute the property was undertaken.

After fifteen months there has not been a response to this request and I am thus stymied by the system in my efforts to pursue my cause.

In the meanwhile other beneficiaries of the Belle Vue community continue to face similar take-overs of their estates, thus adding to their plight in spite of whatever representations they have made to the relevant authorities.

Editor, it is my hope that this letter, together with that of Mr Balkarran’s will spur the Ministry of Labour and the Cooperatives Department to investigate the workings of this Society. It may be prudent for an independent audit to be done; an assessment of the assets of the present members of the committee of management should be conducted, including an enquiry into the disposal of the original farmers’estates, that was undertaken in the absence of due process.

As for Mr Ishan’s letter, I wish to offer the following comments:

Firstly, Mr Ishan alluded to the fact that the petition mentioned by Mr Balkarran was not signed by members of the Society.  The fact is that the bona fide members could not have signed the petition, because they are dead.  It is the beneficiaries of the “members” who are petitioning because their interests have been surreptitiously usurped, confiscated and redistributed without compensation.

Secondly, Mr Inshan may be right when he stated that the holder of a legitimate lease cannot trespass on his own estate. However, Mr Inshan needs to come clean and give a full disclosure as to the means whereby legitimacy was granted to the present leaseholders he referred to.

Finally, the arbitration he talked about is an insult to the true spirit and intent of what an arbitration proceeding should be.  It’s a similar arbitration in 2009 that dispossessed myself and my siblings of our father’s estates.  It was an ‘arbitration’ that was not conducted in good faith. The entire process was a fait accompli with preconceived outcomes, and a façade to render the appearance that justice was served.  It was this process that I personally sought to challenge but have not been favoured with a response from the Chief Co-ops Officer.

In closing, Editor, I reiterate the call for an independent enquiry into the workings of the Belle Vue Cane Farming Co-op and Marketing Society, and support any or all representations for the return of individual estates to the beneficiaries of legitimate members.

The spirit of this pilot cane-farming project that was born over half a century ago should not be allowed to be interred with that of the members who are no more.

Yours faithfully,
Tej Beijnath

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