Opposition Senator Wade Mark at the UNC’s weekly news conference in Port of Spain on Sunday. – SUREASH CHOLAI
The United National Congress (UNC) is accusing the government of using the Youth Agriculture Homestead Programme (YAHP) for land grabbing, voter padding and house padding.
At the party’s weekly media conference on Sunday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark said the programme, where 200 graduates will be given leases for two acre-parcels of state lands after two years of training, was “an underhanded tactic to distribute the people’s lands without proper accountability, transparency, accountability, and equity.
“The programme was only highlighted after it was launched and the applicants selected. The development appears to be a clear attempt at voter padding and house padding, and designed to target certain constituencies.
“What were the criteria used or employed to select 200 awardees out of 1,600 applicants? We don’t know, but we do know that 1,400 people were unsuccessful. The participants will get a start-up grant of $20,000 and $8,000 in start-up fees, but we don’t know who the lands are going to. Who do we have to ask?”
He said the public was never properly informed of the programme, which was originally supposed to accommodate 150 participants. He said citizens were originally given 14 days to apply when the programme was announced on March 1, and the deadline had to be extended to March 24.
He said the requirement of a certificate of character meant that many young people would be excluded.
“The age range is for people 18-35, but as at the end of 2019/2020 there were 11,000 unemployed university graduates in TT. Were these people considered when launching the programme? Who will benefit from the programme? Not the young people on the blocks. Many ghetto youths will be excluded from the get go, as they would have had challenges with the law. Another obstacle was that the form was to be filled out online. There is no access for the ordinary person.”
In the second year of the programme, the Land Settlement Agency will facilitate the development of infrastructure and lands located at Fyzabad Field Road; Chatham Dairy Farm; Kendall Dairy Farm; Palo Seco and agricultural lands in Valencia; Gran Couva; Pointe-a-Pierre; Todd’s Road; Lopinot; and Santa Cruz.
Mark said five of the constituencies where the lands would be located are held by the UNC.
“Is this programme designed to transform PNM supporters into homestead operations in the following constituencies to voter pad and to house pad, so that they could steal the upcoming general elections? They are going to allocate these people in the constituencies of Fyzabad, Princes Town, Couva South, Pointe-a-Pierre, and Moruga/Tableland.
“What is the intention of this programme? You are using the people’s land to allocate homestead, which simply means you are going to have two acres of land, you are going to put up a house on that land, and wherever you were living before, you transfer that address to a new location, so you can vote in that location. We are concerned about that.”
Mark said the initiative seems to be a new plantation model, calculated to rob the people of lands and exploiting young people for the PNM’s selfish ends.
Responding to the comments made by Mark, Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings, in a WhatsApp message to Newsday, said the government will continue to introduce opportunities for the development of our young people.
“The Youth Agricultural Homestead Programme is one such initiative, which will produce for our country a new cadre of 21st-century farmers. It has been embraced by the young people of TT and will certainly add to our food security.
“The ramblings of the Opposition will not distract us from doing what we were elected to do. We will continue to serve all the citizens of TT in every constituency.”
Mark said there were other instances of land grabbing which had been perpetrated by the government, according to the Opposition. These included the Aripo livestock station, Golden Grove Buccoo Ltd and La Gloria Farms.
Mark said all of these instances could be tied to the Single Point Land Management Authority, and asked why the PM had placed this initiative under his office.
The Opposition Senator said the PM needed to choose between being a businessman who is selling meat to Trinidad from his farm in Tobago, and being the PM, as this means he is competing with small farmers in TT.