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Caroni Is More Than Sugar
Posted: Friday, May 17, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

The air caressing and hovering above the rolling verdant plains of County Caroni and beyond no longer exudes the lingering sweet whisper of sugar. Caroni (1975) Ltd is in disarray and is being threatened with rumours of extinction and permanent quick fixes. Sugar workers no longer constitute the political force of yesteryear because of dwindling numbers resulting from automation. But the plains of Caroni yield more than sugar. They contribute the life sustaining blood of Central. They provided the platform from which the bid for achieving political power was successfully launched, nurtured and given form and function in the ULF and the UNC.

Corporate Caroni is a community of dedicated, value-for-money workers from whom the parasitic oligarchic managers, reminiscent of the colonial and neo-colonial ownership regime of Tate and Lyle, are trying to extract blood. These workers, the proverbial salt of the earth, produce sugar for the domestic, the preferential EEC and other markets. They subsidise the food bill of this nation. They earn substantial foreign exchange and keep hundreds of working class families from going under. They perform jobs which are a constant reminder to my Afro-brothers of slavery. They exist at the subsistence level some just beyond the poverty line. They have been exploited politically from time immemorial and deceived into believing and expecting that those who labour would indeed hold and weild the reins of power. On the contrary they have witnessed the take-over of their patrimony and democracy by the omnipresent, moneyed parasitic oligarchy using covert and subversive means.

Caroni (1975) Ltd is the largest owner after the state of prime agricultural lands and real estate. But sadly the Company is the victim of endemic mismanagement, ad hoc political interference and corruption, all manifestations derived from its para-statal status. It does appear that privatisation or divestment, the more palatable term in vogue, represents the only alternative to continuing dependence on the Exchequer.

Government cannot and it should not pretend that it can manage and run businesses efficiently. The state has done its duty by taking the risks that the private sector avoided when Tate and Lyle decided to withdraw from sugar production in Trinidad by selling Caroni Ltd for $10m.

The traditional cane farming community has clearly and consistently demonstrated its capability to produce cane more economically than the top heavy, bureaucratic bungling Caroni Ltd. The same applies to the farming of citrus and rice. The imperative now is to divest and divide most of the 50,000 acres of actual cane-producing plantations into appropriate acreages to experienced sugar workers, long standing cane farmers or workers' co-operatives on a leasehold arrangement with appropriate sugar-growing conditionalities. The same should be done to Caroni's revenue -losing enormous citrus and rice plantations. A tractor/machinery pool can be established from existing inventories and rented/ leased to farmers and contractors who would succeed Caroni.

Caroni Ltd should now concentrate on the transportation of canes, milling, refining and marketing of sugar in a divested company using mills at Brechin Castle and Usine St.Madeleine and its exporting port at Point Lisas. Its Rum Division should be divested in a transparent manner and at a fair market price to Angostura, if it is still interested in acquisition, with a clear proviso to accord employment preferences to the neighbourhood. The citrus plantations have fallen victims to expected but unending praedial larceny while the automated Rice Project situated at Caroni is inhibited by a variety of equipment and fertiliser problems and produces substandard white rice for which there is a very small market in T&T.

The state has both a legal as well as a moral obligation to compensate Caroni adequately and effectively for all lands which it has appropriated for public and commercial use. When it does, and it has no choice on the aforementioned moral and legal grounds in this matter, it will be clearly appreciated by all that its subventions to Caroni, having regard to the direct and indirect contribution which Caroni makes to national development, the economy and human welfare, are not astronomical and scandalous as they are being quantified and represented at present.

In the Caroni area alone, which is quite familiar to me, south of the Silver Bridge along the Old Southern Main Road, four large recreation grounds, the site of the 400 acre abandoned racing complex and now to be dedicated for the building of a Millenium Arts Centre, the La Paille Gardens NHA Housing Project, the Caroni Police Station, the interim Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Centre, the Frederick Settlement Industrial Estate and Free Zone, the WASA complex, the NHA Housing Project east of Caroni Village and the Caroni Cremation Site were all lands of Caroni Ltd appropriated by the state and valued commercially in excess of $1 billion. Did Government pay Caroni adequate compensation. It should seriously consider compensation at the prevailing market price. The state has used Caroni's lands in numerous other locations and contributed to the present dilemma at Caroni. Does the right hand knoweth what the left hand taketh? Does not Government pay T&TEC and TSTT for electricity and phones? When therefore a reality check is taken in respect of the aforementioned appropriations, the State's financial subventions issued to Caroni would appear to be substantially less than the prevailing market value of the lands appropriated.

What of the lands situated at Balmain for the Ato Boldon Stadium, the T&T Cricket Board Facility and Inshan Ali Park and more for housing in Couva?

Notwithstanding the above mentioned considerations, Caroni should as a matter of urgent and compelling corporate survival monetise its valuable land resources situated along the main arteries of communication especially along the strategic Old Southern Main Road Corridor extending from La Paille to Warren Road on the proviso that the historically long promised but not yet materialsed flood abatement measures have been established on both banks of the Caroni River. The lands of the former Orange Grove Estate now assimilated into Caroni Ltd are prime real estate ready for development away from sugar to take advantage of the evolving and lucrative East- West Corridor Housing conurbation. We cannot run Caroni on a one year vision plan.

Caroni is no longer ripe for picking and choosing- for political footballing. The sweat and tears of our forebears have moistened the soil and their departed spirits continue to energise the life giving and sustaining force of the Dharti Mai (Mother Earth) after having willingly crossed the Kala Pani (Black Waters) and were deceived into believing that they were going to chalay chini (strain sugar) in Chinidad (sic).

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