The larger picture

The farmers had protested the bulldozing of lands at Pineapple Smith, D’Abadie and at Egypt Village, Chaguanas, which, incidentally, they illegally occupied and refused to relocate. On Wednesday, they took it a step further and tried, in unruly behaviour, to ambush the Prime Minister, when she went to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) office in Port-of-Spain to hand out keys to recipients of Government housing.

Despite the behaviour of the farmers, however, which had placed Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s security in jeopardy, Persad-Bissessar demonstrated that she was prepared to see the larger picture.

Lands at Orange Grove and Egypt Village have been offered to farmers with a maximum of five acres per farmer at alternative sites and compensation has also been offered for crops which had been bulldozed, the compensation to be at market prices. Additionally, leases are to be offered for agricultural lands with standard terms, for example, 25-year tenancies.

What was readily understood was that neither the Prime Minister nor her Cabinet could be viewed as backing down, but was instead reacting to the agricultural needs of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Already, imports of a wide range of agricultural supplies, for example wheat and rice, have increasingly been under threat as a result of a series of natural disasters which had beset such countries as India, Australia and New Zealand, among others. This had resulted in what threatened to be a diminished access to food over a considerable period. This meant that the Government had to react both to today’s reality and that of the foreseeable future. While the amount allocated or offered may appear relatively modest, nonetheless what was implied was Government’s concern.

Meanwhile, instead of a mere chiding by the Prime Minister, Minister of Food Production, Vasant Bharath, who publicly sided with the farmers when they demonstrated over the bulldozing of the lands they occupied without permission, Bharath could have been asked to resign or the President could have been asked to revoke his appointment. This was because Bharath’s reported actions had violated the doctrine of collective responsibility.

Bharath’s stand with the farmers, however, is yet another example that the importance of the 133-year old doctrine of collective responsibility, which is at best a constitutional convention, is a diminishing force.

Even in the United Kingdom, the birth place of the Westminster system, the collective responsibility doctrine has been under increasing challenge.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the Prime Minister did not go the harder way, but instead chose reconciliation. It is now up to the farmers to plant the land being made available to them and to count themselves lucky that they have an alternative. They should also realise that although public sympathy and understanding were with them when their crops were bulldozed, they did themselves no good - indeed hurt their cause — when they engaged in unruly behaviour that ensued.

Now it’s up to them to do their jobs and plant food crops on lands that are legally assigned to them.


"The larger picture"

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