|Caroni Lands — Part I
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
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
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
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
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.
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.