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A note to our Cabinet
On August 3, 2017, you took a decision in Cabinet to build housing on the site of the historical St Augustine Farm and Nurseries. Following this, your Housing Ministry applied to the Environmental Management Authority for a certificate to build 300 multi-family units on ten housing blocks, on 17.4 acres of nursery land. That is ten housing blocks, high rises, each seven to ten stories high, stretching 542 yards along the Southern Main Road in Curepe, virtually walling of the farm. This is a fundamental developmental blunder; and will win no political credit for the Government or economic credit for the nation.
First of all, when this Cabinet decision was taken, did the Health or Agriculture minister stand up and tell you this was a blunder? Did the Health Minister not stand up and say, listen Prime Minister? Don’t you know that the astronomical health bill of the nation is becoming an increasingly insupportable capital loss? That the nation is stricken with too much diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, heart disease? Too much fats, sugars, carbohydrates, processed and junk foods?
Did not the Minister of Agriculture say that this is a historical farm, committed to research, experiment, the banking, propagation and dissemination of vital food and fruit stocks? And that we should grow these facilities, not diminish them? That we should create a horticultural revolution in Trinidad and Tobago? Trees, plasm, plants, all along the Corridor and elsewhere? A Vitamin C, D and Minerals Revolution? Nutrify, beautify, fortify, diversify? To aggressively challenge disease, extreme weather events, and foreign exchange imbalances?
Did the Planning Minister not put up her finger and tell you that the East West Corridor is under immense social stress? That, from a Google satellite map, the entire corridor, from Diego Martin to St Augustine to Arima looks like a dust-bowl? Did she not warn you of packing and packing more and more citizens in already over-packed settlements? Did not the Minister of National Security stand up and warn about the relationship between disease, crime, morbidity and population density? Why are we packing more and more citizens in the Corridor? Because they want to live there? Is this logical policy? If we are being disciplined with higher gas, property and food taxes, why not discipline us with logical development practices?
And did not the Minister of Finance stand up and warn that the Government’s economy is in trouble? And can no longer sustain high levels of public sector employment? And that the economy is verging on recession? And when low and middle income families get fired a mortgage is a noose around their necks? And in such a private sector contracted build and design project mortgage prices will not be low? And when tenants have to pay through their noses, and do not have land to diversify their incomes, this leads to great inequities and burdens on our society? Which we have to bail ourselves by social security nets, police time and prison?
Did not the Minister of Works warn about the endemic, chronic and utterly dystopian traffic on the highways and main roads on the Central and Western parts of the Corridor? With Curepe, St Joseph and St Augustine at the center? More and more cars packing and clogging up the communities, taking an astronomical toll on health, time, the ecology, gas bills, wear and tear of vehicles? Why are we packing more cars, commuters and tenants in the Corridor?
And did not the Minister of Social Security warn about the importance of land? That land is the pathway to social and economic security? How much land will any of the approximately one thousand persons proposed for this housing scheme own after one year, ten years, thirty years? How much land to pass on to children and grandchildren? Not a single square inch. Not a square inch of land to open a garage, a garden, an upholstery shop. To become financially independent of mortgage, state or corporate. Did the Housing Minister not say that this practice of stuffing low and middle income families in high rise blocks, mortgaged and landless, is a failed and outmoded model?
Did the Attorney General warn that the managers of the St Augustine Farm should be consulted? The professional agricultural groups, like the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago? Or the farmers’ unions, like the Farmers’ Union of Trinidad and Tobago? As a matter of sound development practice, efficiency and transparency? And did not the Minister of Culture warn about protecting, growing and cherishing invaluable national cultural assets? How many good projects did our governments bust? Train, Wallerfield Farm, Caroni (1975) Ltd, Petrotrin, WASA, T&TEC, the government economy itself. Inch by inch, toehold by toehold, you want to bust this one too?
The historical British dictum of ‘collective responsibility’, when used for collective co-operation on nefarious or reckless decisions, amounts to collective irresponsibility. Cabinet is answerable to Parliament and the people. Parliamentarians, Senators, members of Cabinet must stand up to this egregious wrong; it is reckless and unpardonable. If nobody in Cabinet stands up then the EMA must. The EMA must take the decision - where our Cabinet is negligent in considering the significance of this economic, ecologic, cultural and health asset, in evaluating the permanent and significant impacts, and where alternative sites for house-with-land are possible - to deny the Certificate of Clearance for this project.
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