It is very disingenuous for those who are claiming to be former State-owned Caroni 1975 Ltd workers to be demanding that the opposition United National Congress (UNC) take action to ensure that the promises made in 2003 by the Patrick Manning-led PNM administration are honored.
On August 1 2003, the Manning administration, without any consultation, closed the company and put over 9,000 employees on the breadline. At the time of the closure, the company made promises to the former workers under their Voluntary Separation of Employment Package (VSEP), one which included an entitlement to land leases.
But the government soon reneged on this and in 2004, the workers union – All Sugar and General Workers Trade Union went to court to have the government comply with the terms and agreements of the 2003 VSEP.
The Court ruled that among other reliefs, the former workers were entitled to land leases and ordered the government to distribute the leases before June 30, 2006.
The Manning administration appealed Justice Deyalsingh’s decision and the matter was still pending when the Persad-Bissessar administration came into office in 2010. It was former attorney-general Anand Ramlogan who withdrew the (former) government’s appeal of Justice Deyalsingh’s 2004 judgment.
Between 2010-2015 during the PP administration, close to 5,000 two-acre agricultural plots and a further 3000 residential lots were distributed. Many legal obstacles held back a more accelerated distribution and implementation of the tenets of the workers’ VSEP.
Immediately upon coming into office in 2015, the Keith Rowley-led PNM administration stopped all distribution of lands to the ex-Caroni workers.
So the question that must be asked of those who are protesting the UNC is simply: why are you protesting and demonstrating against the opposition and not against the government which has been in office for nearly seven years and: why are you attacking the opposition and not the government?
How can anyone believe that the opposition UNC can fulfill the Manning-led PNMs VSEP agreements?
Less than a month ago, former minister of agriculture Clarence Rambharat “assured” this protesting group that the government is working to uphold its promise that the Manning-led PNM made 19 years ago as part of their VSEP.
It is a trend that has emerged in the country for the past seven years – blame the opposition for the government’s gross mismanagement and failures.
What these “former workers of Caroni” should be doing is taking their protest to the ministry of agriculture and the prime minister’s office.
These “former Caroni workers” should be demanding that the government honour its promise and complete the terms and agreements of the 2003 VSEP.
They should be demanding that the government account for the approximately 76,000 acres of Caroni land which is near the size of Tobago.
They should be demanding that the government disclose all those who were able to access these lands, which according to reports, has been understated and is now part of a “land-grab” by individuals who were never associated with Caroni 1975 Ltd.