Go after State lands thieves

By Raffique Shah
June 07, 2018

Raffique ShahI was about to write a column on my concerns with the Valuation Division of the Ministry of Finance, which plays a critical role in the implementation of the new Property Tax, when I read the lead story in the Sunday Express that pertained to a number of “hanky-panky” deals involving the distribution of State lands by officials of the Division of State Lands, which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture.

For those who did not read the Ria Taitt story, which outlines the travails of Minister Clarence Rambharat as he personally sought to track down land transactions conducted by senior officials who work under him, I strongly recommend that you do. The lurid details come across as being stranger than fiction, comically so if it did not involve an almost free-for-the-boys (and -girls) feast on valuable real estate that these public officers are charged with and paid for managing and securing on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

The reason I chose to divert attention to this (I shall return to the Valuation Division soon) is because I have written before about the grand larceny of State lands, naked banditry by persons high up the social and economic order and many low down the ladder, invariably facilitated by unscrupulous public officers, which will have cost us tens, maybe even hundreds of billions of dollars since independence in 1962.

If that number startles you, the reality might well be “wuss than dat”.

In the matters that Minister Rambharat reported to the Prime Minister, which will go before a Joint Select Committee, the most scandalous is the case of a female employee of the Land Management Division who applied to the Commissioner of State Lands (COSL) for lease of a plot for her family. Within nine days, the woman, in her official capacity, inspected a plot in Arouca, and, as the interviewer, recommended that the applicant (herself) be granted a residential lease!

To cut a short, incestuous story shorter, in a record five weeks from the date of the application, the COSL authorised that Cabinet be advised to approve the lease. But the matter suffered a fatal setback when, three months later, a man who claimed to be the owner of the said plot, having paid $700,000 to the previous owner, was granted a court injunction restraining the occupants (the public officer’s family) from entering the property. The matter is currently before the courts.

To illustrate just how these entrenched public officers operate as laws unto themselves, when Minister Rambharat sought to personally inspect the controversial land, he was given a mighty runaround by senior employees of his ministry.

By way of information, I should state that there are thousands of applications for new leases and renewal of leases for State lands, mainly for agricultural purposes that are 20 years and older, which are buried in dusty files in the offices of the COSL. These have been studiously ignored by successive office holders.

The irregularities that Rambharat has uncovered are the proverbial tip of a monstrous mass of nepotism and corruption that have, over the years, seen the State stripped of valuable lands. For too long, governments have all but condoned this banditry to the extent that large communities of squatters have been “regularised” (given free lands with infrastructure) and wealthy thieves legitimised after moving in on choice real estate for which they have no title.

I live on lands that once belonged to Forres Park Estate, which was merged with Caroni Ltd sometime around 1980. I was a residential tenant and was given the option to purchase my plot (circa 2000), which I did. Few other tenants bothered to buy: they simply continued to occupy, even extending their plots, confident that neither Caroni Ltd nor Government would do anything about their banditry.

In fact, for many years, agricultural tenants of sugar estates’ vast holdings (Caroni, Orange Grove, Woodford Lodge, Reform) have “sold” their tenancies to business and residential “buyers”, with only cash changing hands since no deeds could be produced or transferred.

In addition to a virtual infestation of squatters’ shacks, huge mansions and large business enterprises now sit on illegally-acquired lands. When the sugar industry was shut down in 2007, Caroni had landholdings of 70,000 acres. Petrotrin sits on approximately 180,000 acres, which, ultimately, are State lands. I have not factored in other State lands that fall under other government ministries and agencies.

Since 1962 when government assumed control of all State lands (hitherto Crown lands), one can hazard a guess that at least 100,000 acres have been illegally occupied. From entire quarries (gravel and sand) to reclaimed watercourses, forests to paddy fields, squatters’ settlements to upscale gated communities, people have stolen State lands without fear of having to pay for it or face prosecution.

I say enough is more than enough. Minister Rambharat must be commended for personally pursuing public officials who are disposing citizens’ lands as though it’s theirs. Hopefully, he would get the support of all parliamentarians to go after land bandits, to take whatever action is necessary to have these thieves pay full current market prices for what they have stolen-or forfeit their illegally-occupied properties which government can dispose of to earn much-needed revenue.

Let’s see: 100,000 acres at $500,000 per acre (dog-cheap!) would yield $50 billion. If the collection exercise takes 10 years, that’s $5 billion a year… Need I say more, Minister Colm Imbert?

10 Responses to “Go after State lands thieves”


  • Whoa: Bouncer Brother Raf, are you forcing the UNC and their supporters to play on the back foot? This present column, might be the DICTAT needed to educate the populace about the acquirement of wealth in T&T. We have seen over the years , how certain members of the community have elevated from obscurity to status , all because of stolen LANDS, these are the very same people who cry out loudly about the CRIME ORGY in T&T. Prime Minister ROWLEY, and his administration is the one most astute to carry out this strugle, having been through the perils of the previous last 2 Gov’ts, this might just be the starting point to true LAW & ORDER in T&T. The time is now to FLUSH the CORRUPT UNC and supporters from their infested holes, We are aware , how most of them generate wealth, LAND and DRUGS, now is the time for this honest debate, now is the time to right the wrongs, now is the time for true policemen to get to work, refusing to take hush money to stifle ongoing investigations,now is the time, now is the time.

    • WHOA: Rush to judgement Bobby Cooper…wondering how you know that the UNC and its supporters are the ones involved in this land caper?
      Your unsupported conclusion smells of prejudice and racial bias.
      The inside information dictates otherwise. It seems that no political party or ethnic group has a monopoly on state land corruption or for that matter, crime.
      Wonder from where this Cooper conspirator is getting his false information, or did he just make it up?

  • If one has no cocoa in the sun, then there is no need to look for rain. Brother Raf’ column is clear cut, it seems once again, “TMAN” have missed the bus, kindly read again, critically, this time, you will see the truth is hidden in the details. Tell me “TMAN”, who do you know are willing to do anything for land? Which group benefitted from the Chagaramas land episode? take your head from the sand and be odjective, you will recognize people from your immediate circle, willing to go as far as murdering family members over land. The issue of land, have caused the Supt of Police to be overlooked for the C.O.P. position. The time is fast comming, when “predudice and Racial Bias will be taken out of this discouse, the TRUTH is going to be too blatant to deny. We are not blind “TMAN”,it seems that you are a lover of spin, not bouncers.

  • Since 1962 when government assumed control of all State lands (hitherto Crown lands), one can hazard a guess that at least 100,000 acres have been illegally occupied. From entire quarries (gravel and sand) to reclaimed watercourses, forests to paddy fields, squatters’ settlements to upscale gated communities, people have stolen State lands without fear of having to pay for it or face prosecution.(SHAH)

    It was the author Mordecai Richler who wrote in The Catcher in the Rye, that “a man without land is nobody”.
    Trinis of every stripe have demonstrated that they have a desire for land and home ownership. There is nothing negative about that.
    To conclude that only one ethnic group is involved in illegal land occupation is some sort of Trumpian fantasy.
    The truth hidden “behind the details” of which you speak is being viewed by you through dark, biased and sinister lenses.
    As I said before, crime in T&T of every type is not an ethnic monopoly.

  • “The issue of land, have caused the Supt of Police to be overlooked for the C.O.P. position”. (CONSPIRATOR Cooper)

    Dulchand was cleared of all accusations related to land dealings.
    The PM clearly stated that he was not selected to be the COP because the process used to nominate a suitable candidate was flawed and many agreed that it was flawed indeed.

  • “you will recognize people from your immediate circle, willing to go as far as murdering family members over land”.(Conspirator COOPER)

    This is quite an accusation!
    It seems that this Cooper guy is fond of stereotyping to fit his biased hypotheses. The Trini embellishing personality trait is surfacing here.
    Tell us Cooper which group benefitted from the Chagaramas land episode. Name them. I would like to be enlightened. You might be bowling bouncers but you are not taking any wickets.

  • “TMAN”, bouncers do take wickets, check the ongoing cricket match presently being played at the Oval. How SARCASTIC you are to quote Canadian Jew MONDECAI RICHLER, isn’t it SARDONIC of what is every day happenings in ISRAEL? PALESTINIAN lands are being stolen. “A MAN WITHOUT LAND IS NOBODY” are you TMAN, justifying stolen lands? if your desire is having or (stealing) land to be somebody, then truly, you are in a wretched state of mind. To you it may be conspiracy, but a vast % of the observing populace, will have a totally different view point. Apparently, my comment have touched a refuting nerve in your diminished mind, the TRUTH ALWAYS DOES THAT.

  • The names might not add up to the land ,but money pass.

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