The announcement of the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, via the Honourable Prime Minister, to close down Caroni Green Ltd only continues to reinforce the perception that the PNM (People's National Movement) administration has no clear understanding of the agricultural sector nor does it have any plans to develop any sector of the economy in a meaningful manner.
The Prime Minister pivoted the argu- ment to close Caroni Green on the points that the company was competing with the private sector and was making a loss. One wonders if the Honourable Prime Minister will take the same logic and apply it to CNMG (Caribbean New Media Group), which also competes with private media houses and operates at a loss and costs the taxpayers millions annually.
Similarly, Caribbean Airlines, Petrotrin, PTSC (Public Transport Service Corporation), National Petroleum and several other State companies cost the taxpayers of this country millions and compete unsuccessfully with the private sector. Or does the Prime Minister's economic logic only apply to the agriculture sector located primarily in areas where the Opposition support is strong?
In his post-Cabinet contribution, Dr Rowley made several allegations about the operations about Caroni Green which were simply false, and if those statements were the basis of the decision to close Caroni Green, then clearly the decision was a bad one.
At the onset, it was clear that the Prime Minister did not know about Caroni Green when he called it a pepper company competing with the private sector. Caroni Green has been involved in the development of several crops, including papaya, plantain, etc. Caroni Green has been facilitating import substitution of peppers successfully that created a cadre of small entrepreneurs who can have a reliable supply of peppers and have a sustainable business.
Dr Rowley stated that Caroni Green costs the taxpayers money annually where the cost was $6 million and the revenues were only $700,000. The start-up costs included land and road development, as well as repayment to a foreign investor as a result of Government reneging on a substantial investment in the agricultural sector. In fact, when Caroni Green was started in 2014, a seed capital was advanced to the company via a EU grant. Since then, no money was given to the company from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, in 2016, Caroni Green showed a profit.
The Prime Minister asserted that only a handful of workers will be affected (lose their jobs); in fact, there will be close to a 100 persons (20 administrative staff and 80 daily paid labourers) on the breadline as a result of this decision.
When Dr Rowley served as minister of agriculture, his tenure was distinguished with the closure of many institutions of that ministry. Now, as Prime Minister, the close-down approach is being applied at a national level.