Land for landless to support election hopes
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar came over as protesting too much when she stressed on Sunday that agricultural and residential land leases were not distributed to former Caroni Ltd workers as an election ploy. Some 700, left jobless with the 2002 shutdown of the State sugar company, were finally enabled to take possession of land promised as part of their so-called voluntary separation agreement.
History was made in the Chaguanas ceremony at which one-time sugar workers from 13 areas became proprietors of plots. This was in fulfilment of a deal cut by the Patrick Manning PNM administration a decade before.
It is settled history that the Manning administration, until its 2010 demise, failed to deliver on its part of the deal. It is equally settled history that such bad faith, loudly denounced by elements that became the People’s Partnership, and who promised to make good, for three and a half years, had achieved zero progress.
That, since Sunday, former workers now hold lands and leases that they had only been promised long before is indisputably an advance. That this has occurred under the watch of Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj and his Prime Minister is also conspicuously attention-grabbing.
Ms Persad-Bissessar tellingly invoked the interests of “our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters” whose lives and livelihoods had been defined by that now-defunct sugar industry. She recalled that “the most significant commitment by the State was the infrastructural development and delivery of residential serviced lots and two-acre sized agricultural plots” to people so defined.
It had been a 2010 People’s Partnership manifesto pledge, the fulfilment of which the Prime Minister was celebrating, but with no explanation of why it had taken so long. Now, however, she was looking forward to its espoused benefits in developing agriculture, reducing the food import bill, and contributing to “the rejuvenation of T&T’s economy by continuing to contribute to GDP”.
The ruling coalition, from next week, facing a succession of unfavourably timed elections, manifestly needs all the help it can get. It has not been made clear why the Caroni land distribution, like other manifesto promises, had not till now been realised.
Against this delivery deficit, Minister Devant Maharaj on Sunday urgently advertised that “leases will be distritbuted soon” to a further 934 “beneficiaries”. The Prime Minister could not, however, avoid acknowledging the link likely to be made with the coming local government polls and the St Joseph constituency by-election.
“There’s nothing wrong legally, morally or spiritually,” she said, “with working for people because they voted for you to work for them.” Ms Persad-Bissessar clearly hopes that “the people” will keep the faith and vote, again, for her coalition.
Predictably, the Caroni lease recipients, like the rest of the country, will not be able to separate the sudden advances on that front from the imminence of elections.