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ASTT president wants stability
Even as questions are being raised about the process used in last Sunday’s Agriculture Society of T&T (ASTT) elections, president-elect Nawaz Karim is talking about his plans to breathe new life into the agriculture sector.
“We want to work with all the stakeholders to ensure there is growth in this sector and that farmers and all other groups benefit,” Karim told the T&T Guardian in an interview after candidates from his slate, Team Performers, were declared winners of all of the positions contested in the election at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya. Karim is set to replace Dhano Sookoo, who served as president for six years. He said he wants to steer the ASTT, which has been mired in controversy in recent years, back to stability.
“Our sector is plagued with negative news. We want to change that. We want people to know that agriculture is a viable option to make a living. I myself have made a comfortable living from farming and agriculture,” he said. One of the major issues Karim intends to deal with is land tenancy for farmers. He also wants to attract young people to the sector.
“In 2014, we want to go around to the Youth Training Centre (YTC) and other correctional facilities to get young people into training for jobs in agriculture. There is a high crime rate in the country and we believe getting young people into productive work will help reduce social problems like crime,” he said. Karim also said the Ministry of Food Production, the ASTT and other stakeholders in agriculture must do a better job of marketing the sector.
He explained: “There are certain problems we must address and one of them is the image of our sector. We need to know how to market agriculture so people can see how the sector can benefit the country.” Commenting on the allegations of financial mismanagement during Sookoo’s six years as president of the ASTT, Karim said: “We need more people trained with financial skills to deal with the financial needs of the ASTT. There are about 10,000 members of the ASTT and about 2,500 financial members.”
He urged members to leave behind the in-fighting of the past since all hands had to be on deck for the sector to move forward. “We need the Ministry of Food Production, the Government, the opposition, the farmers, the youth and everyone else to take the agriculture sector into the future. We need to this to develop the country and the economy,” he said.
Natasha Hosein, legal adviser to the Ministry of Food Production and an election observer, said there were discrepancies in the process on Sunday and she is preparing a report for Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj. Hosein said the Agriculture Society Act of 1919 is very old and there is urgent need for new legislation. “We have already started the process to modernise the Act. It needs to be repealed. The next step is for the Minister of Food Production to consider my report and take the necessary steps,” she said.
The Food Production Ministry later said in a statement that it might withhold the release of funds to the ASTT until it is satisfied that the elections were free and fair. That is one of the conditions of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with the ASTT on January 30, 2013, which governs the basis on which funding is approved for the organisation. The ministry said discrepancies were observed in the election proceedings.
“The ministry may also withhold the release of funds to the ASTT if there are any unresolved disputes or any court actions between members of the ASTT and the committee concerning the elections until such times as those disputes or court actions are settled or adjudicated upon,” the ministry said.