LSA Denies MP’s Report of “Wilful Destruction” of Crops
The Chief Executive Officer of the Land Settlements Agency (LSA), Mr. Hazar Hosein, categorically denies the report of ‘wilful destruction’ of crops belonging to Mark Williams, as alleged by Couva North MP, Ravi Ratiram, in this Monday’s edition (April 18, 2022) of the Daily Express.
Mr. Hosein went on to state that “contrary to what has been reported, the LSA has been very prudent in its management of this particular situation, allowing Mr. Williams the opportunity to harvest the produce that was ready for market, and even allowing other produce in varying stages of growth to remain undisturbed”.
Mr. Hosein dismissed the Couva North MP’s claim of lack of consultation with the affected farmer as being mischievous at best, since the LSA has been having consultations with several of the farmers in the area, as well as representatives from the local government Ministry, inclusive of the then Local Government Councillor who has since been elevated to the Chairmanship of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation. These consultations have been ongoing since October 2019 and there had been no protests from those who have attended. Mr. Hosein also said that there have been fruitful discussions between representatives of the LSA, Mr. Williams, and his wife in recent times.
According to Mr. Hosein, the Sahodeen Trace squatter site is one of several sites designated by the Government for regularization as stated in the State Land Regularisation of Tenure, Act 25 of 1998. The ultimate aim is to improve the quality of life of legitimate applicants in accordance with the Act. The scope of works that is required at the Sahodeen site includes clearing and grubbing of land to construct drains, detention ponds, development of new roads, laying of pipelines for a regular water supply, and electrification. Upon completion of the development works, Certificate of Comfort recipients of the area will have access to fully developed lots of approximately 5000 square feet and can gain ownership of the land through the granting of Statutory Leases for 30 years and Deeds of Lease for 199 years.
Noting the extent of the outreach to Mr. Williams, CEO Hosein indicated that the LSA conducted two site visits on March 28 and April 8, 2022, respectively. During those visits, it was established that Mr. Williams did not possess a Certificate of Comfort, nor was he able to provide the LSA with evidence of an application for an agricultural lease to the Commissioner of State Lands. It was also noted that Mr. Williams was engaged in mixed farming on lands that began on Lot 75, but extended across the LSA’s proposed road reserve and encompassed portions of unallocated and unoccupied lots ranging from Lot 75 to Lot 79.
During those visits, Mr. Williams admitted that a contractor, acting on behalf of the LSA, assisted him in salvaging some young coconut trees. However, he also categorically denied that there was any destruction of pimentos, stating that “no short-term crops were destroyed.” This directly contradicts the Couva North MP’s allegations, as a portion of the land containing pimento peppers remained untouched.
Mr. Hosein reiterated Government’s position that it was unlawful for persons to occupy State lands without the necessary approvals and that it was not government policy to compensate for long-term crops cultivated on State lands without permission. Mindful of the importance of agriculture to achieving some measure of food security to the country though, he concluded that the LSA would continue to work with the owners of short-term crops, cultivated on State lands illegally, and on lands earmarked for development, by allowing reasonable time for them to harvest their produce before the commencement of works.