There can now be no doubt that the realization of the Guyana/Trinidad and Tobago land-for farming deal reached a few weeks ago by the two governments may well be in some measure of doubt.
Since a week ago when we reported on the objections raised by two T&T-based farming bodies to the deal and their stated intention to have the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) torn up, more has happened. An independent Trinidadian Senator named Ramkhelawan has taken the issue to Parliament, taking the position in a speech during the country’s budget debate that the MOU should not be allowed to stand.
There is a considerable similarity between what Senator Ramkhelawan said earlier this week and what the farming bodies had said earlier. In a nutshell both are saying that T&T may not have properly thought through the deal before signing on to it. The Senator – like the spokespersons for the farming bodies – alluded to the availability of arable farming lands in Trinidad and Tobago in significantly greater quantities than what is being offered here in Guyana, in the first instance. To cut to the chase what is being said by some groups in T&T is that the investors and the farmers there do not – at least at this stage – need the land that Guyana is offering.
There may be a whole host of technical reasons why the arguments being made by Senator Ramkhelawan and company are correct or not, as the case may be. In fact, given the current developments, one imagines that the Government of Guyana will now have to wait for a period before a determination can be made as to whether or not the MOU will stand. What is noteworthy, however, is that while a debate is raging in T&T over the issue, the Government of Guyana and specifically the Ministry of Agriculture has not sought to provide any particular enlightenment on the issue, or, for that matter, to make public the specifics of the MOU signed with the government of T&T despite the fact that this newspaper has called for the release of the document.
Here, the Government of Guyana has simply made a determination that going public on the MOU is not really a big deal since it is no secret that the level of accountability demanded by the populace as a whole is decidedly less than that which applies in the case of our Caricom partner.
That having been said, part of the role of the media is to continue to seek to hold government’s feet to the fire as far as issues of transparency and accountability are concerned and that is why this newspaper is issuing yet another call for the release of the MOU and some kind of public pronouncement from Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy regarding just where we stand as far as the MOU is concerned.
As has already been mentioned in this newspaper, this is not a particularly auspicious start to what is expected to major bilateral initiatives between Georgetown and Port of Spain under the Jagdeo Initiative on regional food security. Without prematurely taking sides or apportioning blame in the matter of the current land for farming issue, it would by no means be inappropriate to say that the current difficulties with the extant MOU be allowed to serve as a caution and that those subsequent intra-regional negotiations towards realising regional food security be informed by greater carefulness and circumspection.