Ragini Kistnasamy for LALIT and Jayen Chellum for the consumer association, ACIM, were the two main speakers at the LALIT public forum held at the Rose-Belle Social Centre on the Madam Lolo Road on Monday 11 June at 4:30 pm. Rajni Lallah gave the introductory speech and presided, saying that this was the second public forum in the series that is part of the grass-roots campaign for popular control of the land, water and the sea. She mentioned how the Rose-Belle Sugar Estate has already published a study it paid for about what to plant where, and what factories to build for processing. But this BDO report is kept hidden in some obscure drawer somewhere.
Ragini Kistnasamy spoke first, saying how with the Government Budget this week, LALIT had already on 30 May held a demonstration in front of Government House warning that Government should not subsidise either the failing sugar industry and cane industry, nor subsidise its real estate speculation to fill its coffers. This cane industry still now controls the near totality of the arable land in the country, and employs less than 5,000 people, and sucks in enormous government subsidies. She said that the General Secretary of the Chamber of Agriculture Jacqueline Sauzier and the Agriculture Minister Seerutun who is also MP for this very constituency we are in for the Forum claim the Report of the Joint Technical committee as theirs – calling for further Rs1.3 billion in subsidies.
The Government, all Governments, think it is their roll to eternally bail out this doomed industry. When sugar fails, they call it “the cane industry” and persist with the very same old monopoly of all the land. At Independence the land question was not put into question, though working people wanted this, and now after 50 years, it is time now to call it into question. The land, its water, and the sea must come under popular control, she said. The role of an economy is to give everyone at the very least a job, a home, water and health, education and pensions for all.
So, on Thursday, as usual the Prime Minister, who is also Finance Minister, will speak in English, not in our language. This way when he adopts the bosses’ strategies, and follows IMF and World Bank dictates, he can announce it without being properly understood.
It is time to diversify. And what better place to start than here. The Agriculture Minister is here. And not only that, the Rosebelle Sugar Estate is the only nationalized one. So, from here, we can put pressure for change towards peoples’ control of all the land.
Jayen Chellum spoke on the erosion of peoples’ buying power, and the danger of the coming loss of control of water through the privatization that is looming. The Government intends to give management to a private concern, and this way to be able to increase prices. From colonial times, he said, more than half of water was, and still is, controlled by private interest. So, it is important to oppose this kind of increase in private control over water, which is a right for all.
He said he had come from a demonstration earlier in the day against proposed increases in the price of petrol and diesel, and the knock-on effects this would have.
He said that, for strategic reasons, and because we pay for the MBC in monthly dues, we should seek popular control over this important part of the media. Without it, he thinks all struggles are up against the odds.
There were questions and comments from the public in the second part of the event, half of them on the question of control over the land, water and the sea, and the other half on whether or not control over the MBC can be won as a single issue. It was concluded that the way a political party and its members look at strategy is by definition different from an association of consumers. Jayen Chellum said that he sees things from this perspective.
This forum is part of the country-wide neighbourhood meetings that link local issues – like houses made of asbestos, overcrowding in “heirs’ houses” and homelessness – with questions of control of the land.