Although the ASTT executive fully supports the farmers whose crops were bulldozed, member Ramdeo Boondoo told Sunday Newsday that he and 15 others had decided to place advertisements in the daily newspapers, distancing themselves from the actions and words of Sookoo.
Boondoo said their decision was based on several things — namely the ASTT president’s participation in the May 4 mob scene outside the HDC’s headquarters on South Quay, Port-of-Spain, her non-appearance at a meeting of 100 ex-Caroni workers on April 23 to discuss a proposal by Food Production Minister to form co-operatives using the workers’ two-acres plots, and her alleged dictatorial behaviour toward ASTT members.
“Mrs Sookoo used to disassociate herself from the actions of Shiraz Khan and others, who are sometimes more aggressive in their actions. It was unbecoming of our president and the other farmers to shout at the Prime Minister outside HDC this Wednesday gone (May 4),” Boondoo said on Friday.
That afternoon, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s safety was called into question because of the large crowd of angry farmers who had gathered outside all the HDC exits, waiting to speak with the PM about their bulldozed crops.
Boondoo also lamented what he called Sookoo’s “back-and-forth” behaviour toward Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal.
“One minute she was shouting and calling for Moonilal’s resignation, the next time we see them they talking normal. The 16 executive members, when we met on Thursday, also objected to Mrs Sookoo’s criticism, as ASTT president, of contractor Emile Elias. He had a right to speak his mind and say the farmers should be moved so people could get homes and contractors could earn some money,” Boondoo said.
The ASTT president meanwhile, has denounced the allegations as “the furthest thing from the truth.” Sookoo told the Sunday Newsday that Boondoo and his colleagues could have contacted her by phone or joined the protests and spoken to her in person.
“The issues facing agriculture and farmers in TT required action, required leaving my office and advocating on their behalf. I led Thursday’s negotiations, in which Government acceded to two of our three requests. Farmers will get market value for their destroyed crops and Mary King is to head a team that will draw up a national land use policy,” Sookoo said.
“The PM has said this is now a priority for her Government. We have achieved something historic with this agreement, after decades without a land use policy. Instead of looking to publish an advertisement against me, Mr Boondoo and the others should use their time to advocate for farmers.”
The Agricultural Society president said if an advertisement were to be published, which brought her office or her character into disrepute, “court action would have to be taken.”
“I saw Mr Boondoo two Saturdays ago in Tableland, but he did not talk to me about these issues yet he has time to meet with other executive members and decide to place an ad? As ASTT president I have been dealing with farmers’ issues, but I am not chief cook and bottle washer. There are 26 members on the executive, including the vice-president Jenson Alexander, who is able to handle some of these matters,” Sookoo said.
The question of authorisation for payment for the newspaper advertisement was also raised by Sookoo, who told the Sunday Newsday that only herself or the ASTT secretary could do so.
However, Boondoo said Thursday’s vote at ASTT headquarters was unanimous (all 16 present voted in favour) and since Sookoo was absent, she “has to abide by the majority decision.”
“At that meeting, the board met and instructed the secretary to pay for the ad,” Boondoo said.