PLANNING Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said on Thursday, approximately $41,802,879.84 has been paid to ex-cane farmers from 2014 to this year. She was responding to UNC MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie during the Standing Finance Committee meeting in the House of Representatives. Payment to the farmers was being made in three tranches.
Robinson-Regis said 3,057 farmers have accepted the tranche one payment. She added that 744 farmers have accepted 53 per cent of the second and third tranches. She indicated a total of $24,582,884.08 was paid for the first tranche while $17,220,337.19 was paid for the second and third tranches. Recalling that the European Union (EU) left money to retrain farmers to transition farmers out of the sugar industry, Robinson-Regis said the former PP government decided to use that money to pay each farmer a specific sum.
She also said the government determined the formula used by the former administration to pay the farmers was not fair.
"This government has been very fair to the cane farmers." She said several cane farmers received over $1 million. Robinson-Regis said they also received land for agricultural and housing purposes and were re-trained to do other jobs. "That was what was going on. Several farmers came in and were paid."
While some farmers took Government to court, Robinson-Regis said, "Those who won, won on a default judgement." She explained this means the entire matter was not ventilated and "the quantum to be awarded to the farmers has not been ventilated." Since these matters could be appealed, Robinson-Regis said final determination of matters still before the court will provide clarity.
Noting that $5 million has been allocated in fiscal 2020 to pay cane farmers, Robinson-Regis was confident this sum would be sufficient. Tewarie recalled the PP promised to pay the farmers $130 million to help them transition out of the sugar industry. He said some farmers did not receive their agricultural lands. While some farmers have been paid, Tewarie said one farmer died before she could collect her money. He said many of the farmers are old.
Tewarie pleaded, "Please pay the farmers before they die one by one." Some Government MPs gasped when Tewarie remarked, "I will not be irresponsible in any statement that I make."
The committee eventually approved a $302,454,000 expenditure for the ministry. Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved expenditures of $3,380,260; $5,917,700 and $7,359,790 for the Public Service Appeal Board, Tax Appeal Board and Environmental Commission respectively The committee meets again on Monday at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre from 10 am.