Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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Commentary MMA Scheme
(Aired 30 May 2007)

     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 elucidation.

   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 area.

   Prior to 2001 the MMA lease required that the farmer pay the MMA the sum of approximately G$3,500 per acre/per annum.

  Having paid this fee, the farmer would have been entitled to the following amenities:

  1. Proper drainage trenches.
  2. Proper irrigation canals.
  3. Properly maintained access dams.
  4. 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 consequences.

   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.