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Ministry employees renting State land
Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat says members of his own ministry were involved in land-grabbing in Orange Grove Estate, in Tacarigua and promised to put a stop to such illegal activities.
Rambharat made the statement yesterday during a distribution ceremony of 450 leases to former VSEP workers of Caroni (1975) Limited at the ministry’s head office in Endeavour, Chaguanas.
During the ceremony, some 459 leases were distributed — 77 residential, 206 agricultural and 176 variable leases.
He said people claiming to be landowners at the Orange Grove Estate were asking farmers to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 to use the land.
“People’s names went on a list for Cabinet approval in August 2015, when looked at the list I did not see people who I know. There were no names on the list that I knew were productive farmers,” he said.
Rambharat said he went in the Orange Grove area over 20 times and did research and asked for an audit of the list which confirmed that they had never been on the land.
“It tells me the productive farmers are not getting the land and there is something in the system that is putting forward names that are not farmers and I have an obligation to go before Cabinet and say this is what I found. This is a true occupant, this is the person using the land, this is the person it should go to,” he said.
He said there were bonafide farmers who wanted the land and should be given priority because they were productive.
“I have information that I will provide to the Fraud Squad and I am on record as saying that I have already passed information to the Fraud Squad.”
He said he believed there would be a fallout with consequences but had to report the problem.
The minister said among the 185 people who were on the list who were granted land at Orange Grove Estate were employees of the Ministry.
“They are entitled to access land. Anybody, but when I looked at the names it is not persons I know to be farming and I know these persons are not farmers,” he said.
He said this affected all across the board and he has a responsibility to deal with this.
“When I looked at the list I saw ministry employees who I don’t know from visiting Orange Grove to be farming the land. They are workers in the ministry, they are public servants and their names on the list at Orange Grove. I did not see these people are farming,” he said.
He said the Commissioner of State Lands did not have the authority to give out such leases.
He said Orange Grove was State land and no one had a lease for land in that area.
“You have people who have commercial leases but farmers don’t have their leases so they are basically squatters,” he said.
Rambharat said that a patrolman interviewed and approved herself for a parcel of land that she thought was State land but turned out to be private land.
“If you have a patrolman allegedly conducting herself like that, can you imagine what is happening in that area?” he asked.
He said he will give focus on distributing some 250 leases a month on agricultural parcels.
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