Land Grabbing with Government's Assistance
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 06, 2019
The Tacarigua Welfare and Improvement Council, also known as the Tacarigua Village Council, was established on 23 May 1945. Its first meeting was held at the "Cocoa House" that was built by enslaved Africans in 1837. Vernon Scott, the headmaster of St. Mary's Anglican School and the person under whom I began my teaching career, was the first president of the Council.
On 29 September 1965, the Tacarigua Welfare and Improvement Council moved to its permanent location on Bally Trace. The Center was opened by Dr. Eric Williams. Dr. Williams, Eutrice Huggins, Chairman of the St. George County Council, a representative from the Trinidad Sugar Estates, Ltd., and A. A. Thompson, Representative of Tunapuna, addressed the gathering.
The site of the community center was donated by the Trinidad Sugar Estates. Cadastral Sheet (B. 180. 0) which I have in my possession reads: "Plan of a Parcel of Land coloured Pink in the Ward of Tacarigua, containing Ninety Four Thousand, six hundred and Ten Sq. Feet. Surveyed by me with due authority in January 1965 to be acquired for a site for a Community Center."
In 2008, the Ministry of Education took over the Tacarigua Pre-School that was run by Petal Knott-Thomas and built the Tacarigua Government Early Childhood Care and Education Center, about ten feet to the south of the Community Center. The Officers of the Village Council were barely consulted about this decision. The government felt it could do with land as it pleased. Today, a drain separates the two buildings.
On May 8, Terence Beepath, Senior Project Manager of UDeCott, and his contractors arrived on the Council's property and began to measure the land without informing anyone. A districker immediately told Cecil Boyce, the president of the Village Council and Vice President of the National Association of Village and Community Councils, about Beepath's appearance on the Council's property.
Boyce and Knott-Thomas, vice president of the Council, went to the property immediately. Boyce asked Beepath: "What are you doing here?" Rather than explain his purpose he chastised Boyce for "disturbing his meeting" and walked away.
Knott-Thomas informed Beepath: "You can't come onto the Community Center without talking to anyone."
Boyce asked Beepath: "What's really going on?" Displaying scant courtesy to Boyce, Beepath turned to Knott-Thomas and said scornfully: "Like he def or what! He eh hear what ah telling him. Anything he want to know, talk to de ministry." He continued his conversation with his contractors.
On May 9, 2017, Joel Bailey wrote in Newsday: "Norman Mungroo, organizer of the popular Norman's Windball Cricket League, is pleading with the Tacarigua Village Council for the use of Tacarigua Community Centre Ground,…ahead of the League 2017 edition."
Mungroo complained: "For the past few years, the president of the Village Council and the Council (itself) have been giving us a little pressure running the tournament—and it's for minor things."
"There was a wall around the boundary line so we painted it and put advertisements, so the place would look nice. We put some iron to the front of the Community Center. We did ask for permission, we didn't get it in writing but they (told) us ok. We put down a new concrete strip in 2006."
Over the years the Village Council has allowed the Norman's Windball Cricket League to use the grounds although it is not a member of the Council. Today, the Council anxiously anticipates the construction of a new community center. It welcomes a modern building with enhanced facilities and the more strategic use of its ground. We also need more space for the children of the Early Education Center.
When Beepath started measuring the Council's land, he proposed placing a concrete wall between where the Center is located presently and the Norman's Windball Field which the Council permitted the latter to use. Such a wall would cut our property in half. At an emergency meeting on Monday evening, the Council objected strongly to the construction of a concrete wall on its property.
There is a strong suspicion that Beepath's primary function is to divide our space in two, thereby transferring half of it to Mongroo and his cricketers. Mungroo noted in his interview: "All we are asking for is permission to use the ground." As guardians of the land, we are now seeking to use the land for the purpose for which it was intended originally.
Newsday reported that Mungroo received "support from the Minister of Social Development and Family Services Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn (who is the Member of Parliament for Lopinot/D'Abadie) as well as Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde, member of Parliament for Tunapuna." I am not sure what Crichlow-Cockburn and Forde supported, but I would like to believe that they support the legal rights of the Village Council rather than the wonton disobedience of the law.
An outsider cannot come into our community which we have nurtured and cultivated assiduously for the last 54 years and tell us that he wishes to give away half of our inheritance because he favors someone whom we have permitted to use our property for sporting purposes.
Such behavior would not be tolerated by any other community, especially with the connivance of our elected representatives. As I contemplated our response to Beepath's high-handed intrusion into our affairs, I couldn't help but view his behavior as another attempt at land grabbing with the active support of the government.
Am I wrong to expect more from a PNM government at a time when there is so much disrespect for law and order in our society?
Professor Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe