A former candidate for the main opposition New Democratic Party says that rather than continue the land reform initiatives of his predecessors, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves “killed the land reform programme”.
Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste made the claim while addressing a virtual meeting of his party earlier this month.
Baptiste, who was the NDP’s candidate in North Leeward in the 2015 general election, got his nickname from his work pointing out their assigned lots to persons under the NDP’s land reform programme.
He told the NDP’s campaign event that the NDP, believe that like education, “agriculture is another vehicle out of poverty”.
Giving a historical perspective, Baptiste said that between 1972 and 1974, Sir James Mitchell acquired the Lauders and Diamond Estates.
And Robert Milton Cato did the same with the Richmond and Belle Isle Estates between 1976 and 1977, doing the same with the Balcombe, San Souci, Bellevue, and Colonarie Estates between 1979 and 1984.
Also in 1984, Sir James Mitchell, acquired the Orange Hill, Langley Park and Grand Sable Estates.
In 1991, Sir James, acquired the Cane Grove and the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope Estate the following year.
“If you notice one thing, I said Sir James, and I said, Robert Milton Cato, the present prime minister, his name is no way in the history of land reform in St. Vincent and Grenadines. As a matter of fact, he killed the land reform programme,” Baptiste told the event, which was broadcast live on social media and radio.
He said that the EU-funded agricultural diversification programme should have run from 2006 to 2011 but lasted only three years.
“You know why? Because some fellows were getting big monies from the programme. So the EU say ‘No! No! No! That ain’t happening at all.’
“So accountability was a problem. And also the EU realised that land tenure also is a problem because a lot of these farmers at the time, under the land reform programme, had a lease agreement.
“This government turned around and said that the lease agreement that the farmers signed with the New Democratic Party is now null and void. It was null and void for farmers. But you have government ministers could have get lands to buy which and while the farmers who were given lease by the New Democratic Party, they can’t get their lands to buy,” Baptiste said.
He said that things are going “to turn around”.
“As it was in the beginning, so shall be in the end. Sir James started it and Dr. [Godwin] Friday is going to finish the land reform programme By ensuring that all farmers get legal title to the lands,” he said, referring to the opposition leader and NDP president.
“Let me just tell you this. When the ULP came into office [in March 2001], there were no lands at all in St. Vincent and Grenadines for them to distribute or to buy. Rather than that, they take away lands from people to sell. So they were actually selling lands, taking land away to sell.”
He said this is what the ULP has done in Orange Hill.
“… what they have done is take away agricultural lands, from persons that were given lease and take those lands and subdivide them into housing lots.
“And when they are done, they have big celebration to say that they actually distributing lands,” Baptiste said.