Almost 15 years since the closure of Caroni Limited, ATGWTU president Nirvan Maharaj led a contingent of workers to hand-deliver a letter to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat to remind him that over 4,000 former sugar workers are still waiting on the promised residential and agricultural plots of land which were part of the VSEP arrangement.
The former sugar workers, many of them women in their 70’s, marched from the Price Plaza roundabout to the Ministry’s Narsloo Ramaya Marg Road, Endeavour headquarters.
Under a broiling mid-morning sun, the former sugar workers, several assisted by family members walked to the Ministry’s headquarters carrying placards which read “God give life but government suffer life”; “PNM + UNC= more suffering” and “ex-Caroni workers abandoned by PP.”
Speaking to reporters prior to the march, Maharaj said approximately 25 per cent of the former sugar workers had died without receiving the leases to their promised land.
“Fifteen years have gone and if you know you going to have to give the lands to these people please give them the rights to get compensation for the lands that are due to them but something must be done within this year otherwise we will all be in trouble because it will show that subsequent governments have breached the rule of law, they have breached the constitutional rights of the ex-Caroni workers and something must be done.” He said there seemed to be a “cabal” comprising an “interlocking directorate of party financiers and parliamentarian on both sides of the divide” who are attempting to get the lands transferred from the former sugar workers to themselves.
However, in an e-mailed response, Rambharat said over 7,000 leases had been distributed to former sugar workers during the period November 2015 to June 2018.
“By end of June 2018 I had distributed over 7,000 lease documents to former Caroni workers. That is from Nov 2015 to June 2018. Since December 2017, I have distributed 1,500 of that 7,000.” He said there are outstanding residential leases but noted that statutory approvals had not been given despite the lands being in UNC held corporations.
“There are residential leases to be distributed. This is because in UNC held Corporations they failed to issue the Statutory approvals. We were able to get that sorted out. Also because of the allegations of corruption in the development of residential land by EMBD, the completion process has been delayed.” The march itself was incident-free until they reached the Ministry’s gates and were told by security officers that they could not enter the compound. Maharaj then asked a security officer to inform either the Minister or the permanent secretary that they had a letter to deliver to Rambharat. After the security officer left, another security officer locked the gates.
This caused the ex-sugar workers to loudly call on the minister to meet them at the locked gates.
After a few minutes, the security officer arrived and said the permanent secretary would see a delegation of two who would also deliver the letter. Maharaj and a former sugar worker, Chano Mahabir, 70, from Felicity, then went inside the building to deliver the letter.
Afterwards, Maharaj said should the ministry fail to meet with the union representatives within one month, they would then take the struggle to the doorsteps of the prime minister.