Almost two decades after the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd, land issues relating to that entity continue to bedevil former workers and the State.
That this is a legacy issue which no administration seems able to bring to a close was underlined last week Monday, when a group of protesters gathered in front of the Brechin Castle Estate in Couva to make their dissatisfaction known to all and sundry. A stone’s throw away, the Prime Minister was addressing the opening ceremony of a hatchery. There was another protest again by the group – Ex-Caroni 1975 Ltd Employees Re United – on Wednesday, with the promise of more.
Former workers, who signed voluntary separation of employment packages, say they have been given the runaround for years with no sign of ever being able to take possession of the residential and agricultural land promised upon their exit from the company.
“I would like my land before I die,” said Baldath Bhooklal, 67. “I know of people who died without seeing their lands. Tell me, you think this right?”
According to councillor for California/Point Lisas Ramchand Rajbal Maraj, a huge number of workers are no longer waiting.
“Fifty per cent of the workers have died,” Mr Maraj said. “Where is the justice? How many more must die before people get their lands?”
The saga of the closure of Caroni, it seems, is nowhere near closure anytime soon. This matter has received the attention of our highest courts, and at one stage there was even talk of the use of European Union (EU) funding to iron out the remnants of and “reorganise” the sugar industry.
And yet, here we are.
Even some former workers who did get land are unable to use it because of a lack of infrastructure.
But this has seemingly not deterred officials from warning people to use land granted to them for agricultural purposes or else face having the land taken away.
The State has over the years been attempting to distribute more and more parcels to former Caroni workers. Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat in 2020 said he believed the exercise had been substantially completed. However, he noted the ministry could not find 1,130 people.
As evident from that statistic, as well as last Monday’s protest, some may have slipped through the cracks.
This is a highly symbolic and emotional issue, but it is also one of basic contractual liability and ethics.
With a clear desire to stimulate agricultural production in the country there is even more reason to allow people to occupy land for agricultural use and to supply the infrastructure needed to facilitate the growth of such practices.
The State should aggressively seek to bolster infrastructure to allow farming practices to flourish, whether on former Caroni lands or elsewhere.
It should certainly also do a better job of managing and keeping track of the claims of former workers, many of whom have been waiting it seems for far too long for something they were promised as a condition of their exit from what was once a vital state entity employing thousands.
History never ends, but we await the closure of this chapter in the Caroni saga.