Saturday 8th December, 2007

 

Judge orders Govt: Give Caroni workers their land leases

 
 
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Lennox Deyalsingh

Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj

Judge says:

  • Give ex-Caroni workers thier leases by June
  • The four-year delay is tantamount to an abuse of power

BY INDARJIT SEURAJ

High Court judge Lennox Deyalsingh has ordered the Government to grant leases to ex-Caroni (1975) Ltd workers for Caroni lands which were promised to them more than four years ago.

The judge set a deadline of June 30, 2008, for the two-acre agricultural plots to be leased to 7,900 displaced workers and ordered that “proper infrastructure, including access, drainage and irrigation facilities” be attached to each plot.

“Government’s lack of the sense of urgency with this matter is, in my view, tantamount to an abuse of power,” he said.

The ruling was made in favour of the Civil Rights Association which brought the judicial review application against Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

And Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, who argued for the sugar workers, said, afterwards, the ruling was a testament of judicial review and the rule of law.

“The law of judicial review is demonstrated by this judgment to be a powerful machinery for the supreme courts to prevent abuse of prime ministerial power and to deliver justice to the oppressed,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Deyalsingh further ordered that residential plots with all the proper infrastructure—including access, water and electricity—be given to the workers.

The lawsuit challenged the delay by the Government to grant the leases to the workers—as part of the VSEP package—after the sugar producing state-owned enterprise was shut down.

Cabinet decided to grant the leases and later promised to do so in a public statement by the Prime Minister at a post-Cabinet press conference on November 20, 2003.

‘Govt pushing

back the dates’

Deyalsingh, in his judgment, said the Government kept “pushing back” the dates for the handing over of the leases.

“It is now four years from the promise and not one lease has been granted to one former sugar worker,” he said.

He said there was no credible date when the leases would be granted, and instead only a “repetition of all the things that have to be done.”

“A public authority which makes a promise and thereby creates a legitimate expectation must uphold its promise and do what is necessary to ensure that its promise is kept...and further, must do it expeditiously,” the judge said.

The former workers, in their lawsuit, claimed they accepted the VSEP package on the basis that they would receive the lands as promised by the Government.

They contended that the distribution had not started since the closure of Caroni in 2003.

Lawyers for the Prime Minister had argued that it was not a legitimate expectation and even if it was, they were taking steps to give the leases to the workers.

T&T Civil Rights Association filed the judicial review application on the workers’ behalf in December 2003, after they claimed the Government had intentions of reneging on its promise to former sugar workers.

Maharaj, head of the Civil Rights Association, led Rikki Harnanan, Darrell Allahar and Vijaya Maharaj for the Association.

Reginald Armour, SC, Vanessa Gopaul and Rehanna Hosein appeared for the Prime Minister, who was named as the sole respondent in the matter.

The Prime Minister is expected to appeal the decision.

Finance minister responds to ruling

Karen Nunes-Tesheira

Minister of Finance Karen Nunes-Tesheira yesterday said that she had not yet seen the judgement and it would therefore be premature of her to comment further.

In any event, Nunez-Tesheira reiterated the Government’s commitment to distribute the lands.

“The Government and we at ministry (of Finance) are committed to distributing Caroni land and granting leases to the farmers,” she said.

“That is one of the priority matters I am focusing on.” (UTR)