|Caroni Lands — Part II
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.
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
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
If that is to be the allocation policy
for these lands then we need to ensure that there are effective
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
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
One has to say that Plipdeco and CDA are
public bodies with dynamic land management policies for their valuable
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.