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PM wants quick settlement with farmers

With time running out and $100 million at stake, Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves has made it clear he does not want a war with the Cane Grove farmers to settle the Buccament land issue.

Instead he suggested that all parties should strive to come to a reasonable understanding.

And a meeting next week between the Prime Minister and the Cane Grove farmers could pave the way for the final settlement in the Buccament Valley land issue, a site earmarked for a $100 million tourism project.{{more}}

The Cane Grove Farmers have asked for more time to make up their minds on the issue but Prime Minister Gonsalves has asked the farmers to take quick action.

On Tuesday, Dr.Gonsalves met with the farmers at Buccama and continued efforts to persuade them and other stakeholders in the area to accept the project in principle.

“We want to come to an arrangement with the farmers and we do not want the farmers to be put in a condition less favourable than before,” said Dr.Gonsalves.

After two hours of dialogue where the Prime Minister presented the Government’s position on the issue and farmers openly vented their feelings, Frederick Frazer, Chairman of the Cane Grove Farmers group, said the farmers would welcome the project once it integrated them. However, he noted that he could not say on his own that they will agree to accept the project in principle.

“We will meet again as farmers and let you know the next course of action,” said Frazer.

But Prime Minister Gonsalves responded that he hopes the meeting can be as early as next week.

According to Dr. Gonsalves, both Government negotiators and the farmers need to proceed on the matter expeditiously.

He said one of the selling points of the Cabana style project is to have them ready for the Cricket World Cup. The project, he outlined, has significant employment opportunities for the wider society and can create permanent employment for some 400 Vincentians and an additional 300 on a temporary basis as well as the farmers.

“I don’t think it’s a matter which we have to take a lot of time. I am available soonest,” said Dr.Gonsalves.

The farmers who will be affected by the project are Simeon Roberts, Steve Harold, Philmore Fraser/Jozie Fraser, James Latchman/Bernard Punnett, Raymond Phillips, Francis Lewis/Bernard Punnett, Frederick Fraser, Norris Peters, Joel Degrads/Bernard Punnett, Elroy Duke, Winston Alleyne and Eli Samuel.

He instructed Adolphus Ollivierre, Chief Surveyor, to have his surveyors look at prospective parcels of land for persons who would wish to be relocated.

As he appealed for the farmers’ support Dr. Gonsalves promised to address the 12 farmers affected on a case by case basis since their circumstance are likely to vary. Besides promising to relocate the farmers to even more valuable lands, those who opt to relocate will be paid compensation for their crops and a relocation allowance package. Dr. Gonsalves gave the option for landholders with title deeds to be monetarily compensated. He also promised to address farmers’ concerns for the secondary, post-secondary and university education of their children.

One title deed holder said frankly he is not selling. Dr. Gonsalves responded that he hopes that farmer will be persuaded and will agree to sell. Among the reasons the farmer gave for not selling was his intention to use the land as security for financing his university education, but Dr.Gonsalves told him that matter can be addressed with assistance from the Government.

Some farmers directed the Prime Minister to Petit Byahaut but he said that is not an option because the investors are simply not interested in that area.

The Prime Minister was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Louis Straker, Minister of Health and Environment, Dr. Douglas Slater, Minister of Housing, Senator Julian Francis, Chairman of NIPI, Edmond Jackson and Chief Surveyor, Adolphus Ollivierre.