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Caroni Lands — Part II

Published Thursday 13th May, 2004

This week we will be examining the various considerations which would come into play in devising a policy for the redistribution of Caroni’s lands.

We need to locate this entire series of questions in the context of land redistribution. The Caroni discussion is about the government having the responsibility to divide these valuable assets — belonging to all of us, including generations to come — in our nation’s best interest.

Land plays a central role in building and holding wealth. Virtually every local success story has a chapter or two on the important part property played in that ascension. Some of the stories are all about property— chapter and verse.

Insofar as we are discussing property here, this is a pregnant moment. The December 1986 elections seem to have started the present phase of short-term governments but these are issues in need of long-term planning.

Key decisions

Role of land redistribution

The real issue here would be the policy of the government in terms of wealth distribution. The release of this surplus land could be seen as an opportunity to redress some of the pressing problems flowing from our unequal access to land and living space.

The present publicity given to the squatters’ issues is only the tip of the iceberg and the disturbing images will not go away unless the fundamental issues are dealt with.

The choices here could be contrasted between the distribution of land to our economically successful citizens in the hope that lasting employment might be created or the allocation of land to those who are without, so that the housing shortage might be eased. Both of these processes would need to be managed to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Timing of land release

The point was made earlier that the Caroni land belongs to all of us—including the generations to come—so the successful management of this large-scale and unique land distribution would need to include some substantial reservations of land for future needs.

Claims of former Caroni workers

In the last week we saw that former Caroni workers have taken their claims for land allocations to the High Court with respect to promises made by the political directorate at the time of the company’s closure.

Of course, we will be closely observing the case and judgment, but even if the workers’ claims to land allocations are upheld there will be other critical aspects of that policy to decide.

Is it good public policy to give away valuable assets? I am not saying that that could not be the case if there were strategic national interests to be served.

If the land is to be allocated on favourable terms—ie at less than market value—then that has to be in accordance with some national target or goal such as food production or long-term employment.

If that is to be the allocation policy for these lands then we need to ensure that there are effective safeguards.

We are against the allocation of these lands for some stated policy only to find it resold or developed without regard to the purpose stated in the original grant. (See clawback clauses)

FTAA

A fortnight ago we spoke of the FTAA and its role in our medium-term future. There are further possibilities here. If we enter the FTAA without detailed discussion or negotiation, would our ability to allocate these lands be restricted?

Put another way, even if there is a High Court victory for the former Caroni workers, will our FTAA obligations allow us to favourably redistribute these lands? Might such a programme not be seen as unduly favouring local producers?

One size fits all

Another area for concern is that the land allocations should take place within a flexible series of arrangements to cater for the correct values of these valuable lands.

There has been an unfortunate pattern here of some critical areas of land allocation falling into a one-size-fits-all trap. A good example of that is that there are valuable lands in the city of Port-of-Spain which are currently being leased at fixed rates per sq ft of with no regard being had to location or value.

One has to say that Plipdeco and CDA are public bodies with dynamic land management policies for their valuable properties.

We would hope that Caroni’s lands come under such proactive and beneficial management.

Next, we will be examining the various proposals for the uses of this land.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

Clawback Clauses:

If the government grants land to an applicant on favourable terms to satisfy a strategic need, it has the right to demand, as part of that allocation, that the lands be so used.

If the lands are put to another use without a corresponding change in policy, there should be penalties applied to that unauthorised change.

These should be at least as large as the initial discount with interest.