AGRICULTURE MINISTER Clarence Rambharat says farmers in Orange Grove are being made to pay $20,000-$30,000 to land-grabbers in order to plant their crops.
Speaking with reporters after the distribution of agriculture and residential leases to former Caroni (1975) Ltd workers at the ministry, Narsaloo Ramaya Marg Road, Endeavour, yesterday, Rambharat said in many cases those being paid for the land have never set foot on it.
“Orange Grove is state land. Nobody has a lease in Orange Grove. There is one commercial lease, but the farmers don’t have any leases, so they are squatting,” he explained.
“Some of those names went on a list that was sent to Cabinet in 2015 for approval and was approved in August 2015, but when I looked at that list, I did not see people who I know to be productive farmers in Orange Grove.”
Before he took any other action, Rambharat said, he visited the land himself and after speaking to farmers, he found his suspicions were true and called for an audit of the list.
“When I got the report yesterday, it confirmed what I had thought. For example, ‘John Brown’ was approved by Cabinet, but ‘John Brown’ has never even been on the land. You have ‘Bill Smith,’ who is the farmer farming the land, and what that tells me is that the productive farmers are not the ones getting the land.
“So something in the system is putting forward names that are not farmers.”
Rambharat said there were 200 names on the list, but most of them were not farmers but “people who sit in offices, including in this ministry, and collect money for the land.”
But when asked to elaborate afterwards, he said, “I can’t say how many, but if I tell you the note approved by Cabinet had 185 names, I don’t believe that half of those are bonafide farmers. There are people in the ministry whose names are on the list and I don’t know them to be farmers – they are working in the ministry. They are entitled like any other citizen in this country to access land – but when I looked at the names, it was not persons who I know to be farming.”
He said in the past, he has passed on information to the Fraud Squad and intends to do the same now.