Government is seeking a $1 billion development investment from the private sector to fund its Land for the Landless Programme over the next four years, Land and Marine Resources Minister Jairam Seemungal said yesterday.Speaking at yesterday's post-Cabinet media briefing Seemungal said Cabinet had approved a new policy in that regard for the programme which was launched in 2012.He said the programme now had the requirements to issue lots since it took some time to get the necessary approvals from utility companies before a lot could be made available.
He said there were 60,000 applicants and 23,000 from the Squatter Regularisation Programme.Leases are being issued all over T&T from North to South. On March 25, 500 leases will be issued for the programme and 500 more also for people under the Squatter Regularisation Programme.Seemungal said Cabinet agreed that the infrastructure, development and design of future sites of Land for the Landless Programme would be financed by a public sector/private sector partnership mechanism. Government will not be funding the plan.
How it will work
Denying it was an election ploy, he said the initiative was necessary due to Government belt-tightening following the recent drop in oil prices and the mechanism involved would allow those with cash in the bank to invest at an attractive rate of return.Seemungal said the mechanism for development would come under the jurisdiction of the Lands Settlement Agency (LSA) and successful private companies who put in bids to participate in the programme would be evaluated by an evaluation team.
Private companies will be offered an attractive rate of interest as incentive to participate in the programme. Successful companies will have to handle all development needs, including roads, utility lines, etc. The LSA will handle pre-qualification exercises.He said any company chosen would do 100 per cent of the necessary work to develop the sites towards full completion over a four-year period. He said the plan calls for developing 3,000 to 4,000 lots a year.
The Commissioner of State Lands will set prices at which the developed lands will be sold.The minister said all applications would be scrutinised by checks with all authorities to ensure they did not already own property.The deed will also include clauses debarring the homeowner from selling the land and it will only be passed to any relative, via a will made by the owner. He said the land would remain State land and under LSA control.
Govt moves on land grabbers
Seemungal said he had brought in the Fraud Squad to move on "land grabbers." He noted 600 buildings had to be removed from the Matura forest reserve on which they had been built and bulldozed, destroying forest cover.Lands being used in the Land for the Landless Programme will be greenfield in parcels of 30 to 40 acres which will have roads, box drains, sewer systems and space for schools and shopping facilities as a fully fledged village. Locations will depend on how far water lines and other utility requirements will have to be run.
On the potential for corruption, Seemungal said one ought not to paint all public servants with the "corruption brush."He said the project, in which bids will be required from the participating private companies, will be subject to the procurement legislation and all contractors would have to bid equally to access it. He said the LSA had a very competent team and he was confident it had the mechanisms to handle it. A team of professional planners will also be working on the project.
Seemungal said Cabinet also agreed to expand the criteria for people applying for residential lots in the Land for the Landless, expanding it from the conditions that applicants earn a household income between $8,000 to $10,000 monthly to $30,000 instead.He said that would allow for middle class applicants and young entrepreneurs who have requested access to the programme. Lots will also be subsidised by Government from a range of 80 per cent (for those costing $250,000 to $300,000) to 30 per cent (over $350,000).
Seemungal said that was to ensure Government recovered the full cost of contractors' development. Applicants can qualify for funding through the T&T Mortgage Finance Company and can also use the two per cent mortgage rate for the programme.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh says while there have been some reports of irregularities in the School Feeding Programme, it was being monitored and has management in place to deal with such issues.He said there were always a few cases of abnormalities but those were dealt with. A few times, he said, he called the officials of the programme to tell them to improve quality and they took action.
On the recent TML issue concerning a teacher, Gopeesingh detailed how the ministry was simply a conduit since the TML was a denominational school and the matter was between the Teaching Service Commission and TML.He said Cabinet had approved 300 teachers for Early Childhood Education Centres and 400 teacher assistants for the same schools.