While children of Forced Labour have to settle for CEPEP (or whatever the hell they call it)
It took two years following the shutdown of Caroni (1975) Limited and the retrenchment of over 9,000 workers, but the distribution of agricultural lands promised as part of severance benefits began in earnest yesterday.
By month's end over 7,000 former workers who applied for lands will at least have the lot number of their allocation in hand.
The All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union (ATSGWTU) had blocked the retrenchment process by filing an injunction in the Industrial Court but the resulting negotiations with Government paved the way for land to be included as part of the package.
Yesterday's distribution exercise got underway at a ceremony at the old rum bond-a former facility of the sugar manufacturer at La Paille Village, Caroni.
Addressing over 200 ex-employees who turned out, Minister in the Finance Ministry, Christine Sahadeo, who was often vilified during the process beamed as she spoke to the former employees.
"I am happy today that the process is working" she said, admitting "we took a lot of flak."
All of the 7,247 ex-workers who applied for lands qualified for a two-acre plot. Nearly two thousand workers chose not to apply. A total of 6,755 former workers will also qualify for residential lots. Sahadeo said during this year 1,111 of those lots will be distributed, 5,173 in 2006, and 951 in 2007.
Caroni's lands are estimated at 76,608 acres, and of that just over 25 per cent has been allocated for housing and agriculture to the former workers.
The National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Lands Settlements Agency (LSA) have been allocated 1,318 acres while 424 acres will be handed over to the Estate Management and Business Development Company for "middle class housing".
As the workers lined up for the lands in a lottery style system which resembled going to the polls, they were given random envelopes with an assigned lot number. Sahadeo told the audience that independent auditors Ernst and Young supervised the entire process to assure transparency.
Yesterday's land distribution exercise, which was attended by Agriculture Minister Jarrette Narine, allocated 104 plots of land in Orange Grove, 260 in Caroni, and 271 in Jerningham, and will be repeated at several other former section offices of Caroni (1975) Ltd, throughout the week where plots in 15 other areas will be distributed. Sahadeo said not all the former workers will get the areas they applied for.
The sugar workers union which also lobbied for land for the survivors of workers who died during the three year wait claimed success when Sahadeo announced that they would be taken care of: "A few of the former employees are no longer with us. We have given the commitment that for these individuals, their immediate family will be the consideration for this entitlement."
Sahadeo told ex-employees by the end of next month they will be able to begin farming their new lands. "After today's allotment what has been organised are various field days for each location. You will be taken to your plot and be shown your plot and stakes. You will be afforded immediate occupation of your land so you can commence farming activity." The field days will commence in September.
Sahadeo also commended over 900 former workers who participated in a wide range of agricultural training courses over the past three years.
She also announced the planned opening of an office of the National Entrepreneurial Development Company (NEDCO), in Couva, to assist them as they developed their holdings.
She said the Government was serious about agriculture and urged the new farmers to take advantage of the many government training programmes.
"Your training does not stop now. This government is offering a lot of sweeteners. We now have Government Assistance with Tuition Expenses (GATE)," she said.
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