Sordid saga of State lands

By Raffique Shah
March 28, 2022

Raffique ShahI believe every word that the former minister of agriculture, land and fisheries, Clarence Rambharat, wrote and uttered with respect to the rampant stealing of State lands by persons high and low, and the refusal, maybe complicity, of others in authority who are empowered to do something about the multibillion-dollar racket to act, as well as his charge that senior public officials and professionals in private practice, from doctors to attorneys, are part of a mafia-like organisation whose members and agents have grown wealthy off this cancerous crime that has overwhelmed the body politic of this nation.

Based on my knowledge of this “bobol” and my experience in seeking but failing to expose its principals and possibly bring them to justice, I can understand why ex-minister Rambharat must have concluded after seven years of trying to slay the hydra-headed monster, only to see it grow stronger, he surrendered and fled to Canada to retain his sanity and secure his family.

I have often written and spoken out about corruption, saying that it had reached epidemic proportions, but no one seemed remotely interested—not when I was a member of the board of directors of Caroni Ltd, representing cane farmers, nor as a journalist/columnist. Everyone I thought had the influence to act just shrugged in the, “What yuh go do, boy?” mode, looking seedless and a trifle ashamed of themselves.

As I recall events that once more put this plunder of this most valuable resource that belongs to citizens, I remember a young Rambharat joining Caroni’s execu­tive management team as a legal officer (I think) sometime around the year 2000. He would be pre­sent at board meetings and will have heard my interventions, especially in 2003 when the Patrick Manning government moved to shut down the sugar industry. It was the only option open to government then. Three years or so earlier, government had written off more than $1 billion that Caroni had owed sundry creditors, including employees’ pension plans, the NIB (National Insurance Board) and the BIR (Board of Inland Revenue). Manning wiped the slate clean, and asked only that the company become solvent—or, better, profitable.

That was not to be: in two years, sugar production slumped, workers’ productivity fell flat, and if government did not pump money into it, Caroni could not pay its workers and farmers’ salaries and earnings. It was in that hopeless scenario that the industry was shut down. Government added a 50-per cent “sweetener” to their termination packages, and a vast majority of employees were happy with that. Their union, All Trinidad, which was sidelined up to then, sought to win back some confidence by demanding that each employee be given a lot of residential land. Mattered not that Caroni was one of a very few companies which, because of its vast landholdings (70,000 acres), had virtually created new villages and communities by selling building lots to their employees at “pepper­corn” prices. And the workers enjoyed very soft loans through a labour welfare committee that existed from the colonial era, and probably does to this day. My deceased father and many of his colleagues built and owned houses that way.

That single act of generosity by the Manning government, a gesture that would elevate sugar workers to having the best severance package ever in the country’s history, exposed the naked greed of people, and triggered the “great land grab” that split families, divided communities, led to murder, mayhem and organised crime where such had never existed before.

Wealthy people in the society—professionals, business elites, drug lords—who had amassed cash by whatever means, swooped down on the mostly gullible workers, offering them “solid, liquid cash”, as the late Sham Mohammed used to say, and land for the “poor, weeping sugar workers” soon morphed into a spending spree that outdid the conspicuous consumption of the first oil boom (1974-1980).

As if by magic, millions upon millions of dollars, many notes contaminated by cocaine, changed hands. Nothing was said of title, of ownership of these new holdings. The new “owners” knew that by hook or crook, likely both, they would get their titles.

Meanwhile, lawful tenants of the sugar company who paid rent by the year, and who had applied to purchase our plots (yes, my wife and I were victims… it took us more than ten years to be offered to purchase our lot before we could build a house), looked on as the invaders moved in on recently “purchased” lands with a fury. Bulldozers, excavators, et al, rumbled away as State-owned lands changed hands.

Thus began the sordid saga of how interlopers could defy laws governing state lands, bribe or muscle their way past government agencies and make millions of dollars, some of which they must have shared with public officials who, for enough dirty dollars, could make it happen.

3 thoughts on “Sordid saga of State lands”

  1. Manning shutting down of Caroni 1975 Ltd. laid the foundation for the PNM to steal State lands. Foster Cummings and his mischief is just one of thousands of examples of PNM excess.

    Trinidad and Tobago like all banana republics do not have a clear demarcation as to what is agricultural lands, lands for commercial buildings, residential lands and State lands. It is a free for all by greed motivated nincompoops who believe once their party in power all belongs to them. They even believe that after their last rites is performed that somehow they will obtain favour from the Almighty after all the thiefin they have done. Thou shalt not steal…is the moral standard for an orderly society. And it is an important instruction for moral living.

    A politician gets into office and within a few years he is driving Lamborghini. How does that happen in the honorable republic. A thief wearing a jacket and tie with a cherubic face is still a blasted thief and deserve to be put in the slammer. But we honor thieves by making them Prime Minister and custodian of the national patrimony. (I can’t make this up). We are horrified when Robin Hood and his merry men starts stealing state land. The head of the hydra head monsters turn a blind eye, his puppet police CoP says all is well and the none too wise public goes about their business with increased tax burdens.

    Caroni had some of the best lands for agriculture. A treasured golden source of fruits, vegetables, aqua farming and lumber. But the 1% owns the government and the food import bill is a bonanza for the PNM financiers. Buying cheap from Guyana packaging the product with a “made in USA” label and selling it for US prices . Running to bank with truck loads of money. Trinis are the most gullible lot, anything made in the USA is like obtaining the status symbol of the Jeffersons. “We are moving on up we finally got a piece of the pie”.. Fooling the simple minded is a skill the elates possess. The brainwashed balisier brigade answers to no one, meet a party controller and you get 4 dead divers and none arrested or jail for negligence. It was an “accident”, no you blasted murderer their blood is on your hands. Nuff said

  2. Your article is very true especially with Caroni (1975) Ltd. and I would like to add that it is a culture problem as it knows no boundaries where race is concerned and I mean black, brown, white and yellow.

    I found myself at the mercy of executive management when survival for the company was tenable providing restructuring the company into 3 separate cost centers viz Fermentation Complex (Caroni), Bagasse Complex (BC) and Sugar Complex (USM). This was based on my paper “Sugar Technology to lend itself to Biotechnology Development in T&T” after the publication of the Spence report (plethora of products), Rampersad Plan (marketing of sugar internationally and domestically). Let me say up front active industrial research was going on both at UWI and CARIRI at the time. All the projects had the blessings of CSIRO (Australia) Commonwealth Secretariat (UK), Ministry of Environment (France) and India and China were privy of our research. Both Rampersad and Chambers were very supportive but it became my demise in the eyes of executive management. What was a pollution problem in the Caroni river became a ready made input for the rice cultivation for the inherent NPK fertilizer (Biran and Griffith et al), may I add that Oryza sativa was the species of rice that was showing promising results. The process of fermentation was converted from batch to incremental where the Bakers yeast project (incl. active dry and instant) was feasible. Vinegar was also in that category and possible cross contamination of micro organisms were investigated with a critical eye. BC would have become the nucleus for bagasse boards and animal feed and USM the nucleus for sugar and liquid syrups. All this was possible at that time (80’s). Let me state pilot studies were yielding bountiful results. The Waterloo research station was doing great in their agricultural research (mainly sugar cane).

    The stinger was this after a meeting at BC’s Central office a black executive manager challenged me if the money was mine. A brown one told me that I must learn to shut my mouth and to go with the flow, the Syrian and Chinese who owned trading houses saw me as one encroaching on their profitably by employing local manufacturing and import substitution. Executive management put forward a proposal for 5 million dollars for a bakers yeast plant my opinion was solicited and I shot it down. I said $500,000 would be ample because the basic infrastructure (SS vats, heat exchangers cooling tower etc. were in place) the trapping the carbon dioxide can be the potential required refrigerant. The same thing happened for a bottling hall at the distillery. Mr. Rampersad was on site and asked for my opinion I rejected the $10 million dollars that was asked for and stated that all we needed to do was to optimize the existing labeler and if increased sales (Old Cask, Caravel etc.) warranted such then we can re-consider.

    My life became a living hell subsequently. My wife was ran off the road on one occasion, my 2 daughters were almost kidnapped for myself death threats became a norm. Truly, what does it profit a man to lose his own soul. Raping and plundering was occurring at the highest level and praedial larceny at the lower levels. I chose the exit door.

  3. “Our import is TT$6B and Guyana is professing it can feed the entire region. There is also Belize and Suriname they have the (land) mass to do it… Why can’t we source the tomatoes from [Guyana] to make the tomato paste? It is not that the private sector in Trinidad don’t want it to come to Trinidad. The political directorate needs to get these things right,” Chief Executive Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA), Dr Mahindra Ramdeen said yesterday during a ‘Welcome to Guyana’ session at the Ramada Princess Hotel”. Starbroke News

    Let’s hope the right politicians read this.

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