He added that contrary to widespread reports, approximately 15 percent of lands at Mausica and Egypt Village, Caroni were cleared by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and not the entire blocs of agricultural land.
Farmers have been up in arm against both the HDC and its line Minister Moonilal, after the HDC bulldozed State land used by farmers on Easter Monday prompting a number of demonstrations against the corporation and calls by farmers for a public apology by Moonilal.
The demonstrations prompted Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to order a halt to the clearing of the land until a solution could be reached between the farmers and the HDC. The prime minister was due to return home last night following her week long trip to South American nation, Brazil.
Speaking to reporters during a walkabout in Sapphire Avenue, Picton Village yesterday, Moonilal, asked whether he intended to apologise to the farming community and said, “You cannot apologise for acting according to the law, I think you generally apologise for breaking the law.”
However, Moonilal did apologise for the late start to the walkabout which was scheduled to begin at 11 am but started 45 minutes late due to his late arrival. He said he was late because he had to deal with several persons at his home who came seeking housing accommodation.
“I was late because when I was leaving the house there was about two cars waiting for me outside and the people were there waiting outside my house and I couldn’t leave them there and run away,” Moonilal said.
“They were waiting to see me because they had tried with appointments and they came in front my house waiting because they have applied for housing and they believe the only way to see me is to come in front the house and wait,” Moonilal added.
“Some people do not understand the critical need in this country right now for shelter and houses as we balance that with the other needs of the farming community,” Moonilal said. He also pointed out that aerial photography over the weekend revealed that the vast majority of land under cultivation had not been destroyed during the land clearing exercise.
“They did aerial photography on Saturday, yesterday, and it demonstrated that in some cases it was really ten percent or 15 percent of the land. In Mausica, I think five acres were cleared out of 73 acres and in Egypt Village, 15 acres out 105 acres were cleared,” he said.
“What we are saying is the Government has made a proposal to compensate...the farmers have accepted that,” he said, adding, “we will compensate for the crop loss but we can’t compensate for all the acreage because the acreage is there and acting in good faith on Friday last, we removed the police from those lands so we told the farmers they are free, they can go back on the land and harvest and reap their crops.”
“It’s also unfair to the taxpayer to use money to compensate for crops that have not been destroyed,” Moonilal said, adding farmers had given the assurance that once the police officers were removed “they will not go back to farm but they will go back to reap crops that are there and we agreed with that.”
Asked about the amount of compensation requested by farmers, he said the Ministry had asked farmers to assess the crop damage. He also said that a site at St Helena, comprising 120 acres, had been offered as an alternative site to the farmers.
“We have offered one site at St Helena, 120 acres of land is available from the EMBDC and we have offered St Helena 120 acres immediately, but they have not accepted so that is where we are now, we are in discussions,” he said.
Asked whether they will be starting the construction of housing units, he said, “No, no we cannot. In good faith we cannot begin anything if we are engaged in dialogue so that once dialogue is ongoing.”
Asked about comments by Labour Minister, Errol Mc Leod in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of the People’s Partnership Administration, Moonilal said Mc Leod had “echoed the views of others as well in that he was not satisfied because much more could be done.”
“He’s saying that we have done a lot, we have worked but we still have more to do and that’s why we have a term of five years so in that sense we have a lot more work to do,” Moonilal said.