The farmers who are occupying land at
the MMA scheme have run into some problems with the MMA authorities.
Something has gone terribly wrong at
the MMA scheme ladies and gentlemen. And those who are in power today need to
stop the nonsense they are doing and re-look at what the MMA was developed to
do, especially since those who are in power are the successors of Dr. Cheddie
Jagan who continue to use the man's name to get elected but have no idea of
what he stood for, since whatever else Dr. Cheddie might have been, he was a
man of the people.
It is funny that I, Tony Vieira, a member
of the large land owners class should be telling you this, but this PPP
government and the previous PNC one did not want a big land owners class in
this country to flourish, because it is a class which, in the past, had an
enormous say in how this country was run and coming from that period both Dr.
Jagan and Mr. Burnham had a kind of phobia about the large land owner classes and
they set about to destroy it, I do not accept it but I understand it since in
the past, for centuries, the land owners, most of them from Great Britain such
as Bookers, were the ruling classes and controlled much of what was going on in
this country. President Hugh Desmond Hoyte did not subscribe to this view and
that is why for private investors and enterprises his tenure in office shines
like a diamond in the mud and we must always remember that it was Desmond Hoyte
who set this nation and the PNC along a totally different road to the one that
Mr. Forbes Burnham and Dr. Jagan had mapped out for us.
A few years ago I saw a letter from
someone in the letter columns, which laid out the criteria of qualifications our
Presidents must have, the first requirement this letter writer alleged, was
that our presidents must come from humble beginnings ladies and gentlemen this
concept that our ruling classes must come from the deprived classes of
this country's population is so ridiculous that it hardly needs
but I will say this, of the countries which
have gotten independence over the past 200 odd years whether they fought for it
with a rifle or in their Parliaments those which started with landowner or
property owner class people as their leaders have done better countries like in
India since Mr. Nehru was from the Indian aristocracy, like Brazil which became
independent from Portugal when Emperor Don Pedro a Portuguese aristocrat
declared it independent, in fact one of the fist decrees that Don Pedro made
was that land must never be confiscated in Brazil, in the USA the founding
fathers were almost all from the land or business owner class, I will not
analyse this further for you but I believe it to be the honest truth.
So now we come to the MMA and what it was
built to achieve, now since Forbes Burnham wanted Guyana to be the rice bowl of
the Caribbean but not wanting to create a land owner class in the process he
decided that he would build the MMA scheme, this scheme visualised small scale
farmers occupying around 30 acres of lease lands each but since they would of
necessity be small poor farmers, they would have to be helped by the MMA authority
with machines to plough and reap their crops and they would pay a reasonable
fee as leases to offset the cost of operating the system of drainage and
irrigation, the dams and the conservancy in the scheme.
Over the years this simple plan went completely
awry, since due to mismanagement and theft these machines have
disappeared and today the MMA no longer has the equipment necessary to maintain
the scheme's infrastructure at a level which can grow anything economically on
such a large scale. So now they have embarked on a process of dispossessing the
poor farmers of their land.
What has become of all of the poverty
alleviation money we have been getting? Well your guess is as good as mine, but
these poor farmers in the MMA are certainly not benefiting from any of it.
Nor are they capable of maintaining this
system at any level, much less bring it back to something evenly remotely
resembling a properly functioning system which it would have to be to make
farming in it lucrative.
What has apparently happened is that the
MMA authorities are alleging that the farmers have not paid their leases for
numerous years and so, by edict, they have announced that any farmer who cannot
pay their outstanding rates within 7 days of around the 15 May 2007 will have
to vacate the land which the MMA authorities will repossess and lease it to any
person who is capable of paying the back rates. The inherent unfairness of this
I leave to you and the courts, ladies and gentlemen these outstanding amounts
are substantial, I have been given the example that in one case the amount owing
to the MMA is nearly G$500,000 on a piece of land which is only 30 acres in
Prior to 2001 the MMA lease required
that the farmer pay the MMA the sum of approximately G$3,500 per acre/per
Having paid this fee, the farmer would have
been entitled to the following amenities:
- Proper drainage trenches.
- Proper irrigation canals.
- Properly maintained access dams.
- properly maintain the primary conservancy
In 2001 the MMA authorities
acknowledging that they were unable to keep these commitments, in other words
acknowledging that they had repudiated the original contract for the lease of
lands in the MMA scheme, they informed the farmers that they will lower the
lease fee to G$1600 dollars per acre per year i.e. they reduced the lease price
to less than 50% of what it used to be.
Even though they publicly acknowledged
that they had repudiated the terms of the lease, they did not concede that they
should have written off all amounts owed by the farmers up to point in time or
reduce it to some other reasonable and agreed amount, they simply denied their
responsibility, reduced the rate and maintained that notwithstanding the fact
that they did not maintain the infrastructure in the manner prescribed by the
original agreement, the farmers owed them the $3500 per acre/per annum relevant
to the entire period previous to 2001, during which time the conditions
in the MMA was so bad that some farmers had actually deserted the land. In fact
it was probably this large scale migration from the land which prompted the MMA
authorities to lower the rate in 2001. It was also a time when the PPP had
mismanaged the European markets for Guyana's rice very badly opting for the
more unreliable ACP markets and production fell drastically along with prices.
additionally a further development
materialised to complicate the matter even further, in 2001 when they dropped
the rate per acre/per year to G$ 1600 the MMA authorities promised that before
the new rate became effective they would clean and repair the entire scheme and
hand over a completely working system to the farmers who would be responsible
to maintain it in that condition thereafter; but the MMA authorities never did rehabilitate
the system and so to this day they have never really handed it over formally to
the farmers, it is a highlight of everything we have learnt about the MMA in
our investigations so far, nothing is recorded in writing, everything that the
MMA wants to communicate to the farmers is done by word of mouth by edict and
so, as in this case, everyone was left in confusion as to what exactly the next
step was going to be. And this is the genesis of the confusion today.
As the matter now stands I think that
the MMA authorities having repudiated the contract in 2001 should not now ask
for retroactive amounts previous to 2001.
I am also suggesting that a lawyer be
retained on behalf of the farmers immediately to file an injunction stopping
the MMA authorities from taking away this land from the tiller under these
suspicious and probably unlawful conditions.
There have in fact already been
accusations that this recovery of money may not in fact be even handed and that
it might be a ploy to take land away from the Afro Guyanese. The PNC-R is
looking into these allegations.
But the fact is that the people who have
been paying off the old amounts and taking possession of the land are mostly
Indo Guyanese, now even if it is true that they are more efficient farmers,
then so be it, but it does not make a lot of political sense to allow such a
situation to perpetuate itself, since it can lead to some very serous
Ladies and Gentlemen this scheme was
built with a certain philosophy in mind i.e. it is to help and serve small
scale farmers to enhance the national production drive, you cannot change that
philosophy now to one where large scale farmers are preferred since they are
the only ones capable of maintaining it adequately, I and my family knew this
since the 70's, I am sorry that it is only now sinking in to the socialist
consciousness of the PPP but people have dedicated their lives to farming in
this scheme, to remove them now would be grossly unfair and will inevitably
lead to problems, so everyone concerned, the MMA authorities, the Ministry of
Agriculture and the farmers themselves should pause, take a deep breath let the
status quo remain whilst this becomes a matter of national debate.