Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 4th 2015 Contents A5
Monday, May 4, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Los Iros farmers are now
accusing state officials of facil-
itating a massive grab for
beachfront property in their
The lands were supposed to
have been given to farmers who
have been cultivating short crops
there for over 50 years, despite
the fact that there is not a proper
water supply, electricity or prop-
However, the farmers claim
they are being bypassed for
lands, with even senior officials
of the Land Management Divi-
sion, (LMD) including the Com-
missioner of State Lands Ian
Fletcher, acquiring lands ahead
Speaking to the T&T
Guardian, president of the Los
Iros Farmers Association Chan
Sookoo said cadastral records
showed that Fletcher and his
wife Monica were owners of a
plot of land situated at Plot 32,
Phase Three, R.E (Royal Engi-
neers) Road, Los Iros. Also
logged as owners of beachfront
property are two other people
believed to have connections at
the ministry, he said.
Ian Fletcher heads the LMD
and is responsible for managing
all the State lands in T&T for
agricultural, residential, com-
mercial or institutional uses. He
is also in charge of land acqui-
sition and land reclamation.
Sookoo said he wanted a full
investigation into how Fletcher
acquired lands when he was not
a Los Iros farmer. He also said
the two other owners were not
active farmers in Los Iros and
have never been seen or heard
of in the area.
"What is taking place in Los
Iros is very disturbing. Los Iros
is the food basket of T&T but
farmers are losing interest in the
area because of what is taking
"There are a lot of discrep-
ancies where the land is con-
cerned, because non-farmers
are becoming owners of land
while the real farmers who are
on the land for 30 years have
not gotten a lease," Sookoo said.
He claimed more than 15 out
of 80 farmers have already been
thrown out of their lands and
have discontinued farming.
The land in question com-
prises 720 acres and is divided
into five-acre parcels in three
separate phases. Records show
phase 1 has 70 plots (roughly
350 acres), phase 2 40 plots
(roughly 200 acres) and phase
3 34 plots (roughly 170 acres).
LIFA secretary Ashraf Juman,
who has a lease for Plot 20, said,
"It is really disgusting what is
happening with these ministry
officials. Cadastral maps are
showing the names of senior
state land officials and they have
never stepped foot on these
lands. They never plant anything
on these lands yet their names
are on the cadastral map as
owners of the lands."
He added, "Their friends in
the ministry are approving their
names for leases. Some people s
files have gone missing."
He said legitimate farmers
who have been planting for
more than 25 years should be
given priority for leases.
Strangers acquiring land in Los Iros
Farmers cry victimisation
Farmer Tshwar Bhoola in his tomato field at his Re Road, Los Iros farm. PHOTO: TONY HOWELL
Contacted on the matter, Fletcher said he acquired a
piece of land at Los Iros long before he assumed office as
commissioner. Asked when and how he went about
acquiring the agricultural lands, Fletcher said, "All the
records are there. You should speak to the Permanent
Secretary. I have done nothing wrong."
Saying he was being set up, Fletcher said, "I own no
State land. I have a recommendation from Cabinet and
we are dealing with the leases for farmers."
Told that the cadastral map showed his name, Fletcher
said, "There is a process. Speak to my Permanent
Secretary or the Minister."
Asked why people like himself who are not farmers
were being given titles for agricultural lands, Fletcher
said, "You know I am not a farmer? How you know I am
not a farmer?"
Asked directly if he was a farmer, Fletcher said, "I have
nothing to say. Speak to my permanent secretary and go
and check the ministry's records."
When the Guardian visited the area recently, Fletcher's
plot was ploughed but there were no crops on the land.
In an interview, Minister Jairam Seemungal said
Fletcher had obtained the land in 2003 before he
became commissioner. Seemungal, however, said he
planned to review all lease arrangements in Los Iros,
adding he planned to send a team to Los Iros to speak
to farmers and investigate their complaints. He also
advised the Guardian to contact the Permanent
Secretary Sheryl Anne Haynes for further information.
In an e-mail response to the T&T Guardian, Haynes
confirmed that farmers actively cultivating lands are
always given first preference, even if they may not have
tenure for the lands.
Asked why the Fletchers were given lands when they
are not active farmers, Haynes said, "According to the
records, at the time when Mr and Mrs Fletcher applied
for the lands he was not commissioner, he was an
agricultural officer. Employees of the State may apply
for state lands for various purposes just as other
citizens of the country.
"It would be a conflict of interest only if the process
was not followed. It would appear that the process was
followed and all relevant requirements were met with
respect to advertisements, interviews and selection."
She added, "The record also shows that in 2009
when the lease was being prepared, it was found that
the plot the Fletchers were allocated had a squatter
who was farming the land.
"The State will not execute a lease if there is a
squatter on the land. The ministry will investigate the
present status of the squatter. If he/she is found to be
farming productively he/she will be favourably
considered for a parcel of land."
She also denied that Fletcher had a lease to any land.
"My understanding is that Mr Fletcher does not have
a lease. He was only recommended for one. The State
does not issue a lease to the prospective tenant if there
is a squatter on the land."
Haynes said they were also probing complaints that
state officials were demanding bribes from farmers to
process their leases. She said if the investigation turns
up any wrong doing the police will be called in.
Haynes also said government was reviewing land
tenure in Los Iros.
FARMERS CRY OUT
Some farmers said they felt hurt that after
decades of planting, they are now being
Farmer Hansraj Balgobin, who planted on
the lands now owned by Fletcher said, "I
have no lease and I was one of the first
farmers here. When I came here 40 years
ago the entire place was forests.
"Now I am approaching 60 and they are
telling me that they will give me a piece of
forest land but I have to clear it.I don't have
the ability or the money to do this."
He said some of the lands he also
cultivated were leased to a ministry official
but he has never seen her. He said his
property also continues to be vandalised and
his produce stolen.
Other farmers said it was becoming
impossible to farm in Los Iros because their
crops were being sabotaged by people who
claim they now have title to the land.
Harricharan Ragoobar, who has been
cultivating 10 acres of land since 1995, said
over the past year his crops have been
destroyed by a man who lives in Rancho
Quemado. He said his water supply has been
poisoned and his irrigation system destroyed
by the man, who claimed he now has right to
cultivate the land. Although he made reports
to the Erin police station, Ragoobar said
there was never any investigations or
arrests. Showing fields of drying tomatoes,
he said he planned to make a report to the
Police Complaints Authority.
Ragoobar also said a five-acre plot being
cultivated by his wife Jassodra was taken
away from her.
"That plot, 33, was given to someone
(name called) but we do not know who she
is," Ragoobar said.
In a letter sent on March 7, 2015, Fletcher
said the man destroying Ragoobar's had no
permission from the commissioner to
cultivate any lands in RE Road Food Crop
Project, Los Iros.
He said, "The lands identified are State
lands which have been allocated by way of
Cabinet minute but not yet leased. The aim is
to ensure the parcels remain unoccupied
until such time. It has been brought to my
attention that persons are claiming to have
authorization from the Office of the
Commissioner of State Lands to take
possession of or occupy the lands."
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