T&T cane farmers demand remainder of EU funds

(Trinidad Guardian) Attorney Gerald Ramdeen is calling on Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Finance Minister Colm Imbert to apologise to cane farmers and the nation for allegedly misleading the country on the outstanding TT$75 million tranche from the European Union. He was speaking at a news conference at his Port-of-Spain office on Wednesday. Ramdeen is one of the attorney representing the cane farmers.

Attorney Gerald Ramdeen displays a document during a press conference at his law chambers on Cornelio Street, Woodbrook on Wednesday. At right is Baliram Ramdial, president of the combine four Cane Farmers Associations.
Attorney Gerald Ramdeen displays a document during a press conference at his law chambers on Cornelio Street, Woodbrook on Wednesday. At right is Baliram Ramdial, president of the combine four Cane Farmers Associations.

The money was part of an agreement between the Government and the EU as payment for former cane farmers after Caroni (1975) Ltd was closed in 2013 by the then People’s National Movement (PNM) government. Prime Minister Keith Rowley told a public meeting in Malabar on Tuesday the Government intended to pay out TT$52 million to the cane farmers.

He said the money was not meant for the farmers but to reimburse the government for money spent after the industry closed down on their pension plans, enhanced voluntary separation packages and training but would honour the agreement of the previous government “because the word of the government of T&T must mean something to the people of T&T.”

“I hope that when this payment is made we move on to an area where those who have land will farm and those who got benefits acknowledge that they didn’t farm,” Rowley said. Al-Rawi and Imbert told a post-Cabinet news conference on March 10 the money had not arrived and certain performance indicators were yet to be met for disbursement of the funds.

Ramdeen said the Government possessed information which confirmed the indicators were met. He said the ministers committed a “very reckless and irresponsible act” against the cane farmers. Ramdeen said both ministers “should apologise to the cane farmers.” They could not be contacted for response.

The former PP government negotiated a settlement of the payment of the money in three tranches.

The first tranche, in the sum of TT$27 million, was paid as agreed last year. The second tranche of TT$75 million, which was to be paid last year, remains outstanding. Ramdeen and cane farmers demonstrated outside the Office of the Prime Minister on March 9, demanding payment of the money.

Imbert told a post-Cabinet news conference in St Clair that disbursement of the money would not be possible until the indicators were met.

Ramdeen said a memo from the director at the Agricultural Planning Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Neela Maharaj, to the permanent secretary in the said ministry and dated March 11, 2016, confirmed that the performance indicators for the disbursement of the money were met.

Ramdeen noted that the Prime Minister had said on Tuesday that only TT$52 million of the TT$75 million had arrived. He said the cane farmers would accept the TT$52 million but would fight and initiate legal action, if required, to ensure the farmers got all the money. Ramdeen said the cane farmers were “not begging the Government to pay them (or) asking for a favour or a gift. This is not a matter of gratitude.”

He said they had an enforceable legal agreement with the Government and they intended to accept the TT$52 million and to fight the Government if they had to and go to court. He said that would be done if “an assurance is not given by Friday (tomorrow) that the TT$75 million will be paid.”

The indicators:

  • 2,000 acres of former Caroni lands to be under agricultural production.
  • Establishment of an Integrated Water Management Plan with the framework for drainage and irrigation systems for 70 per cent of Caroni lands used for agricultural purposes, inclusive of wastewater management,
  • Local agriculture production to be increased by ten per cent.

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