Judge advises ex-cane farmers: File class action suit for $103m compensation

Monday, June 24, 2019 - 13:15

A High Court judge has be­gun to man­age the cas­es of over 2,300 for­mer pri­vate sug­ar cane farm­ers who are claim­ing that they are still owed a to­tal of $103 mil­lion un­der a com­pen­sa­tion scheme for tran­si­tion­ing out of the sug­ar in­dus­try.

Jus­tice James Aboud com­menced the te­dious process as scores of the cas­es came up for hear­ing be­fore him at the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain yes­ter­day.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Aboud sug­gest­ed that the farm­ers’ cas­es be con­vert­ed in­to a class ac­tion law­suit, un­der which one of their cas­es would be de­ter­mined with the re­sult be­ing bind­ing on the oth­ers.

The group’s at­tor­ney Ger­ald Ramdeen agreed but point­ed out that State at­tor­neys had filed an ap­pli­ca­tion to strike out all the farm­ers’ claims, which was yet to be de­ter­mined.

Ramdeen sug­gest­ed that the ap­pli­ca­tion was doomed to fail as a sim­i­lar chal­lenge was raised in three oth­er cas­es, in which the Court of Ap­peal up­held the claims from six farm­ers.

Deputy So­lic­i­tor Gen­er­al Neil Byam, who is lead­ing the State’s le­gal team, said he would have to re­search Ramdeen’s claim as he was not fa­mil­iar with the cas­es.

Both Ramdeen and Byam agreed to file the tran­scripts from the ap­peals for the is­sue to be re­solved by Aboud at the next hear­ing on Oc­to­ber 18.

The com­pen­sa­tion be­ing claimed by the farm­ers stems from the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to close Ca­roni (1975) Lim­it­ed’s op­er­a­tions in 2003.

As part of the plan, the Gov­ern­ment struck an agree­ment with the Eu­ro­pean Union (EU), which was at the time the largest out­let for the com­pa­ny’s prod­ucts and gave pref­er­en­tial tar­iffs.

Un­der the agree­ment, ti­tled the Na­tion­al Adap­ta­tion Strat­e­gy, T&T and the EU were ex­pect­ed to part­ner to es­tab­lish new in­dus­tries for the com­pa­ny’s for­mer em­ploy­ees and oth­ers af­fect­ed by the shut down of the in­dus­try.

In 2015, the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed to make pay­ments, to­talling $130 mil­lion, to the pri­vate farm­ers to avoid go­ing through with the agree­ment. The com­pen­sa­tion to each farmer was cal­cu­lat­ed based on the tonnes of raw sug­ar cane it sup­plied to the com­pa­ny, two years pri­or to its clo­sure.

The EU agreed and con­tributed $57 mil­lion.

Be­fore demit­ting of­fice in Sep­tem­ber 2015, the for­mer gov­ern­ment made $27 mil­lion in ini­tial pay­ments.

Af­ter the Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) en­tered of­fice, the Gov­ern­ment sought to rene­go­ti­ate the deal and re­duce the re­main­ing pay­ments to $57.9 mil­lion.

De­wantie and Man­zo­ol Mo­hammed, Kaloutie and Mathu­ra Bisses­sar, Si­ta Ma­haraj and Manohar Ram­nar­ine were among the first to sue over the Gov­ern­ment’s reneg­ing on the deal and won their law­suits, last year, af­ter State at­tor­neys failed to file de­fences to cas­es with­in their al­lot­ted time-frame.

The State ap­pealed but the Court of Ap­peal agreed with three High Court judges that the State at­tor­neys could not jus­ti­fy their re­quest for an ex­ten­sion of time to file their de­fences.

The six for­mer farm­ers were award­ed a to­tal of $450,000 in com­pen­sa­tion.

The State is al­so be­ing rep­re­sent­ed by Coreen Find­ley and Brent James while Umesh Ma­haraj and Dayadai Har­ri­paul are ap­pear­ing for the farm­ers.

Reporter: Derek Achong