EU Grant for Cane Farmers

Cane-Farmers, Lies, flip-flops, and how the PNM almost got away

Spread the word

A Letter to the editor from Mr. Gerald Vincent

So the millions granted to local cane-farmers by the European Union have finally been found! Or is it that the Keith Rowley PNM’s attempts to hide and possibly re-direct over TT $50 million to their Local Government Election spending spree were uncovered, thus exposing just one of the numerous lies told by the Administration.

Few political analysts would have expected the tide to turn on the Rowley PNM so soon after it was quietly given an all-access pass by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

It might be that the PNM over-estimated its self-conceived belief of some kind of renewed public support. They thought that the best way to spend the little goodwill they had was to lie as much as possible in the early months to tarnish the Opposition, and protect them from liability for the economic stagnation triggered by their baseless cries of ‘crisis’.

Barely seven months have passed, and the PNM has returned to its original position, being seen as a shady, dishonest, corrupt and debauched party that will promise anything to get elected, without as much as a moment’s pretence that they intended to keep their promises.

Generous kudos are owed to the United National Congress Political Leader, former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for again proving to the nation that it would take far more than a few primitive and misogynistic PNM cave-men to intimidate her.

Indeed commendation is also owed to the Parliamentary Representative for Caroni East, former Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie for not bowing to clear attempts by Rowley and Imbert to browbeat the Opposition into caving in its advocacy on behalf of cane-farmers.

 More than just a lie

Cane-farmers would be especially grateful because the issue of EU grant funding of compensation is more than just the fabricated story Rowley told in the House of Representatives on Friday 8th April 2016.

It was during the Prime Minister’s Question Time session that Rowley attempted to deflect the EU grant issue, even leaning on his dodgy Finance Minister, of all people, for ‘moral’ support.

The question from Dr Tewarie was as clear as it could possibly be: In light of the receipt of funds from the European Union to pay for cane farmers, could the Prime Minister indicate when will the cane farmers receive the balance of their payments?”

In what has become his characteristic brutish arrogance and condescension, Rowley’s response bristled with a clear attempt to intimidate the Opposition, saying: “It is clear that the Member for Caroni Central is not prepared to listen to the facts from the Ministry of Finance. This matter has been addressed by the authority on Government’s receipts, and that is the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Finance, in response to the Member for Caroni East has told the country that we have received no such funds. As of this moment speaking to you, the situation remains the same. No funds, as implied or stated by the Member for Caroni Central has been received with respect to this matter of moneys for cane farmers from the EU.

Dr Tewarie is by no means a mild-mannered academic or politician. He has demonstrated that he will hold his ground, defiantly if necessary, to pursue his line of argument.

This is why it was a bit of a surprise to note Dr Tewarie’s calm, and what could be generosity with Keith Rowley, almost allowing him a way-out of the lie without facing a brutal public backlash, when he said: “I think, with the best of intentions on the part of the Prime Minister, that the Prime Minister is misinformed on this matter…”

With the PNM reputation of ousting persons who do not abide by their cultish norms, including a former House Speaker; Bridgid Annisette-George sprang to the PNM’s defence: “Member, might I ask, this is a supplemental question?”

Interrupting Dr Tewarie, she persisted: “Member, is this a question? You are allowed a question and not a statement.

Nonetheless, Rowley again responded and appeared to be starting to back-track: “I have to rely on the authorities in the Ministry of Finance and I am sitting next to the Minister of Finance. However, the matter can be looked into in the event that since I had been spoken to, if the matter has been sent anywhere in the Government. I am not now in possession of any information that moneys have been received by the Government on this matter.

A very important point to note is the Prime Minister has one hour advance notice of questions so that if answers require substantial data and research, there is sufficient time.

This means that even having known of the question in advance, and having presumably taken the time to check and confirm, Rowley knew what his response would be even before the Parliamentary sitting began. This points to an almost deliberate and concerted attempt to bold-facedly mislead the Parliament and the public.

Knowing that the answer provided by Rowley was merely a continuation of the PNM’s distortion and manipulation of information, Persad-Bissessar later told the Government in no uncertain terms – find the money, pay the cane-farmers and do it now, or face the consequences!

Money suddenly appears

Faced with growing public outrage on general failures in public management, and increasingly caustic internal wranglings over economic policy misfires, the Rowley PNM suddenly located the EU Grant.

And despite having seriously misled the Parliament on a longstanding issue, Rowley chose to confess at a PNM Public Meeting in a PNM constituency on Tuesday evening.

Far from apologising, Rowley responded with aggravated disdain saying: “I understand that $52 million have come from the EU and because they have agreed to give it to the cane farmers, we will carry out the commitment.

As if scolding the UNC, and cane farmers for refusing to relent even after almost a decade has passed, Rowley told PNM-base supporters that “the money was meant to replace as a small token from the EU the billions that were paid from the treasury to the cane farmers and the workers and so onI hope that when this payment is made we move on to an area where those who [own] land will farm and those who got benefits will acknowledge that they did in fact get a fair treatment from the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Rowley might want to ensure that he reads all of the facts, the next time he tries to cover up his failures. If he did in fact read all of the facts, then he must try harder to understand what he reads.

The fact is that the EU grant of €8 million was not disbursed for use at the discretion of the Government; it was a grant intended for cane-farmers.

More than that, no intelligent person could ever accuse cane-farmers of attempting to ‘benefit from State largesse’, or refusing to work. The sugar-cane industry that was unceremoniously shut-down, creating widespread impacts on several communities in Central and South Trinidad, was built on the backs of people who whether rain or shine, toiled in the dirt and saved penny after penny to ensure they could educate their children.

Considering that it is the Rowley PNM that has never lost control of constituencies like Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Beetham and surrounding areas, where the URP and CEPEP became professions, with some of the highest achievers being criminal gang-leaders who were employed to manage hundreds of millions of dollars in State projects, his position was not only insulting, but also demonstrated contempt.

 

This demonstrated contempt has become a common trait of the PNM Administration, with citizens being accused by Rowley, Al Rawi, Imbert, F Khan, Deyalsingh and others of “being too entitled”, “being lazy”, “needing to act maturely” and needing to “grow up”. And these crude admonitions are despite the fact that a large section of the population has repeatedly proven their resilience and loyalty to country and our nation’s stability by virtue of their sacrifice.

Where the contempt began

This contempt didn’t start today; it has been Rowley’s position for quite some time. Recall that on 22nd November 2010, Rowley hissed and grand-charged to the media saying that an EU grant in 2006 of €10 million was intended to compensate the Government, not the cane-farmers.

In fact, Rowley insisted that the then Persad-Bissessar administration should apologise for saying that the PNM denied cane-farmers their payments, which in fact it did.

In typical PNM fashion, Rowley later changed his story and was reported in the Trinidad Express on 25th August 2015 as making an unequivocal promise to cane-farmers: “We will pay you the money.”

Despite the offensive contradiction of his own contempt, Rowley twisted the story further by accusing the Persad-Bissessar administration of denying cane-farmers their dues.

But then the story changed again. When the PNM slipped through the back-door, with the help of the EBC’s unilateral and unconstitutional decision to extend voting on election-day because of a request from the PNM, Rowley reverted to his 2010 position.

On 27th January 2016, the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce publicly called on Rowley to honour his election promise to pay cane-farmers outstanding dues of $103 million.

A day later, on the 28th of January 2016 the Trinidad Express reported on Rowley’s instruction to his heroic, goat-saving Agriculture Minister, Clarence Rambharat, to back-peddle. It was reported that: “The Government is reviewing the agreement made by the European Union (EU) and the previous administration to pay ex-cane farmers, and until the review is completed, there will be no distribution of funds.”

Perhaps aching at the thought of someone daring to take the spotlight away from him, the ever PR-ready and shallow Faris Al Rawi also jumped in saying at a post-Cabinet briefing in March 2016 that the issue was being reviewed at Rowley’s behest, claimng that it was the Persad-Bissessar Administration that did not want to pay the cane-farmers.

It was around the same time that the Ministry of Planning says that it received documentation on the grant funding from the EU.

And it is against this background that the issue of EU grant funding for cane-farmers has become a tragic issue of contempt, manipulation, deceit and subversion. The chronology makes one hang his head in dismay:

1)  Rowley denies that cane-farmers are entitled to EU Grand compensation;
2)  Rowley then promises cane-farmers to make the payments if the PNM is elected;
3)  Rowley then buries the issue in the Public Service bureaucracy when he is reminded of his promise by the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce;
4)  Rowley then instructs his Agriculture Minister to say that the issue is being ‘reviewed’, so no payments can be made until the review is completed;
5)  Rowley then instructs his AG to respond to questions of a timeline for payment by accusing the former Government of something or the other;
6)  Almost at the same time, Rowley’s Minister of Planning receives documentation on the funding from the EU;
7)  Rowley then misleads the Parliament on the EU grant saying no money was ever received;

8)  Rowley then, at a PNM public meeting, begrudgingly confesses that the money was received, and castigates cane-farmers for what he insinuated was an attitude of entitlement.

And this is just one issue in the course of almost seven months, representing zero cost to the Government that the Keith Rowley PNM has deceived, frustrated, stalled and complicated out of sheer spite and malice.

If this is what we’re finding out after months of deceptions and distortions on such a public issue, it makes one even more nervous about the truth that will emerge from the “RowleyGate” email scandal…but that’s for another blog, soon, as it is understood that both the Police Service and the Integrity Commission have completed their investigations.

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