Gov't already spent $500-million to develop Caroni
For the second time since the last General election, we, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are hearing the startling disclosure from a senior Manning-Cabinet Minister that he did not know the magnitude of the cabinet portfolio which he was given.
"In a litany of "prayers" Senator Dr. Lenny Saith's confesses that "the government" cannot meet Justice Lennox Deyalsingh's judicial deadline to honour its contract with the ex-Caroni workers.
Why so? Because "it was a very time-consuming and difficult exercise.
"Dr. Saith's confession is an insult to the intelligence of us mere mortals and may, yet, prove to be an albatross around the PNM's neck!
Here is the superman who, for the past four years, has been chairing the Cabinet Committee responsible for implementing the different aspects of the Caroni VSEP package "deal", coming now to tell us that, having spent over TT$500,000,000 of the people's money, not a single agricultural site is as yet ready to be handed over to the former workers!
Compare that, if you would, to a certain TT$148,000,000.00 castle that was built in mere months. What conclusion would the reader draw?
Aha! That the Chinese possess the magic wand and they should have been given those TT$500,000,000! They would have gotten the job done, on time!
Seriously though, Dr. Saith needs to identify the contractors who won those TT$500,000,000 worth of contracts and the basis/bases upon which they got and, despite their tardiness, still have, those contracts.
Now, at first reading, Dr. Saith's apology suggests that, in fact, a helluva lot of work has been done and that nearly everything is completed insofar as on-site infrastructure works are concerned.
Allow me to quote from the early portion of the Sunday Express of December 16th, 2007 story headlined "Saith: Tough to meet deadline.":
Dealing with (VSEP) package, Saith said, "Government had spent $500 million developing the Caroni lands for distribution to the former workers. He said that by May 2008, sites at Jerningham would be 100 per cent ready, at Waterloo-95 per cent ready, Orange Grove-85 per cent, Longeria-80 per cent, Exchange-70 per cent and Felicity-65 per cent. Accordingly offers for some 1,369 sites at Orange Grove, Longeria, Caroni, Waterloo and Jerningham would be available to former workers".
In fact, the goodly doctor was not referring to farming lands at all! He was talking about residential lands, nothing more, or less! Because, lower down in the same article it is stated:
"On the issue of the two acre agricultural lots, Saith said government, recognised that it too would take time, given the construction in the country and the problem of getting contractors to prepare the sites. It therefore decided to carve out the two acre (sic) lots once the land was graded and allow some people to see and have access to their lots, he said. He said Government also relaxed the conditions so that persons could get licences to register as farmers which would enable them to access all the incentives offered by government. And this was being done, he said, prior to them receiving their leases. He said over 1,000 people had already received farmer's licences under this arrangement.
"When he says, "government, recognised that it too would take time", I ain't sure if, by the word "it", he means, "the government" or "the logistics".
In any event, it is clear that the issue of providing the ex-Caroni workers with the tools to become independent income earners was never a priority, as far as the Manning/PNM administration was/is concerned.
So, a situation exists where TT$500,000,000.00 has been spent, so far! To do what?
To develop residential plots on ex-Caroni lands! How many plots? We do not know! What we know is that all that money was not spent to develop just the 1,369 plots (Dr. Saith calls them "sites"; we know what he means) that are "earmarked" to be leased to ex-Caroni workers.
Yeah? Says who? Common sense does! For, to suggest that it was would mean that each of those 1,369 lots cost, on average, some TT$365,200.00 to develop! Not so?
It would also mean that the ATSGWU and the other unions involved in negotiating the VSEP packages for their members would have had to have been the biggest financial jackasses that every existed!
How so? Because that would have been tantamount to them saying to Caroni, "Okay sirs! We want you to take, on average, $365,000.00 plus, of YOUR hard cash, and develop each lot. Our members would then rent these lots from you for a limited time, paying with $20-30,000.00 THEIR hard cash. We give you those instructions because, in our considered judgment, we find that to be a much better deal for our members than you keeping your land and, instead, giving each of our members the $365, 000.00 in cash, up front, punto final!
"Everything considered, the following questions need to be answered:
How many residential lots have been actually developed? Where?
Who, besides ex-Caroni workers, are the persons to whom these thousands of other lots are to be "given"?
Who selects those other persons? And, At price would those other persons pay for ex-Caroni lands?"