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Caroni Lands — Part I

Published Thursday 6th May, 2004

Caroni (1975) Ltd was closed down by the government on August 1 2003 — Emancipation Day. The loss-making State enterprise was closed amidst much comment and concern as to the future of the workers, their communities and of course, the land.

Despite the range of expressed concerns and long-term national issues arising from this action, there has been no strategic statement from the government on the future of these lands. There have been many reports and reviews of Caroni’s operations.

Much public discussion of its failings and naturally, most of these have been tinged with politics. That is no bad thing. Our question now has to be: is there a plan for Caroni’s lands?

While this column is not focussed on the workers and community situation, we cannot consider the elements separately. The people have a right to expect proper consultation in the use of this land. Indeed, it is impossible to have any real development without the input and commitment of stakeholders.

This week we will limit ourselves to a description of the present position and over the next two weeks we will deal in turn with the present proposals for and the possible potential of these lands.

The present position can be outlined as follows:

Where are the lands:

When we talk about the Caroni lands what do we mean? I have put in a map showing the areas in which these lands are located so as to give some idea of the locations.

The areas in Caroni’s ownership stretches from Orange Grove (near Trincity) in the north to Princes Town in the South; these include property at Mayaro and “down the islands.”

How much land is there?

The Caroni estate comprises over 75,000 acres and while some of this has been kept in sugar cultivation, there is still a vast area which has been released for other uses.

Caroni’s land within the national land bank

There is research which suggests that only nine per cent of our country’s land area is available for development. These estimates were done by excluding heavily-forested or swampy land and those areas reserved for agriculture. The nine per cent includes the developed areas we now live in.

The Caroni lands make up just under six per cent of T&T’s entire land area. Although part of the surplus Caroni lands will no doubt be reserved for agriculture, it is clear that the release of these lands has the potential to have a deep and long-lasting effect on the national real estate market to begin with and much more to follow.

The Plan

I have just visited the Ministry of Agriculture’s Web site and there is no indication of the thinking behind the future of the surplus lands.

While it is clear that the sugar-growing business was losing huge amounts of money every year, we would not like to think that there is no plan for the use of these lands. We will be discussing the possibilities in the next fortnight.

Party politics

The present political situation is itself a very important part of any such discussion. Apart from the egos of the parties involved and the obvious factors of racial voting patterns with the knife-edge victory of the PNM – I think less than 3,000 votes separated the parties — there is a greater danger. We are all aware of the terrible fate which is said to await “a people without a vision.”

The point here is that we might become consumed in a series of timewasting and petty arguments which could blind us to the enormous opportunities for national and regional development which this unique moment offers. Sad to say, but all the ingredients for confusion are present. Can we rise to the occasion?

Our nation’s interest demands that we recognise that the Caroni lands are too big, too important and too valuable to be the preserve of any single group or political party.

There is apparently a consensus within the political directorate (both parties) that foreign investors are a vital ingredient for national development. Whatever your view of that view, it goes to show that consensus is achievable.

Can our rulers find it within themselves to reach a consensus on this critical series of issues? The national interest and our future generations demand no less.

Next week we move onto the proposals for the Caroni lands.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

Our nation’s interest demands that we recognise that the Caroni lands are too big, too important and too valuable to be the preserve of any single group or political party.

There is apparently a consensus within the political directorate (both parties) that foreign investors are a vital ingredient for national development. Whatever your view of that view, it goes to show that consensus is achievable.