Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie made a passionate plea for Government to pay the country’s ageing cane farmers who he claimed are owed millions of dollars before they die one-by-one.
The matter was raised at yesterday’s Standing Finance Committee in examining the 2020 expenditure of the Ministry of Planning and Development in Parliament.
The committee was told that $5 million was allocated in the 2019 budget for the farmers of which $1.7 million had been spent.
In 2020, another $5 million was allocated to the farmers.
Opposition MP Rudranath Indarsingh queried from Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis how many farmers are still owed and if the $5 million will relinquish all outstanding claims.
Robinson-Regis said 3,057 farmers had accepted a tranche one payment totalling $24.5 million, while 744 farmers received $17.2 million in tranches two and three.
The $41 million was paid between 2014 and 2019.
She said there has been a fluctuation in the number of farmers accessing their claims.
Tewarie said he wrote Robinson-Regis on this “vexing matter”, stating a number of these farmers had sued the Government for monies due to them “which would have been a universal number of $130 million agreed by Cabinet and then disbursed according to a formula to each farmer.”
He said 10 farmers had won their matters in court.
“It is going to cost the Government much more to continue with these things for all the cane farmers beyond the $130 million. I asking the minister to consider the issue of a final settlement for the farmers under terms and conditions formally agreed by Cabinet.”
Tewarie appealed for closure of the matter, stating that the farmers, many of whom are old.
Robinson-Regis said $130 million given to the Government by the European Union (EU) was for a specific purpose.
“It was not really to pay each cane farmer a specific amount of money. It was, in fact, to prepare the cane farmers this transition out of cane.”
She said the last Cabinet devised their own formula in circumstances knowing fully well that the money from the EU was for retraining and not to pay people individually.
In addition to getting cash, Robinson-Regis said each farmer received land for farming and to build homes, including retraining in different skills set.
“ The farmers who won...won on a default judgement. The Government in its previous incarnation has been fair to the farmers.”
She said several farmers had received over $1 million, while others received land.
Indarsingh tried to get a word in, but was shot down by chairman Esmond Forde.
Tewarie said he was not trying to make mischief.
“I am trying to get a resolution that is reasonable. Can the Government among itself resolve this matter at Cabinet level and pay the farmers please, before they die one by one?”
Robinson-Regis said the “Cabinet has taken a decision and we stand by that decision.”