Newly elected ASTT president Darryl Rampersad

Newly elected president of the Agricultural Society of T&T (ASTT) Darryl Rampersad is promising a brighter future for farmers and proper accountability and transparency in conducting the society’s affairs in 2021.

He made the promise hours after emerging the winner in the ASTT’s general election held on Sunday in Tunapuna.

Rampersad dethroned Dhano Sookoo who served as ASTT’s president for 13 years.

Speaking with Guardian Media yesterday, Rampersad said while Sookoo uplifted the farmers in her first few years of presidency, more could have been done for the farming population.

“Miss Sookoo somewhat lost focus from being farmer-driven to being self-driven.”

Leading up to the election, Rampersad accused Sookoo of “closing the membership” and denying farmers the right to register to vote.

Rampersad said the ASTT has a membership of 10,000 plus, but less than ten per cent were eligible to vote.

He also disclosed that the battery of an ASTT Prado vehicle which was parked on the voting site had been removed.

The seven-year-old vehicle was used by Sookoo to conduct the society’s business.

“The vehicle of the society was being used as a campaign tool. That vehicle was supposed to be parked up yesterday.”

The Prado, Rampersad said, was used to transport voters which were against the rules.

For years, Rampersad said, ASTT has not received subventions from the Government, while allegations of mismanagement hung over its head.

“We have been fighting the Government for the wrong reasons. Who was fighting for the farmers while we were fighting for a bigger office, more money and a better vehicle to drive?”

While the ASTT has several matters with the Ministry of Agriculture in court, Rampersad said he intends “to review the cases as the sitting president and see what relevance they have. I am not going to tow the ball and chain for Dhano Sookoo. “

He said the ASTT would withdraw from some of these court matters.

For the past year, Rampersad said the board members have not been paid.

To compound matters, Rampersad said the Government pulled the ASTT’s subventions.

“There was an audit report that was done on the agricultural society and there was a note attached to it to cease payment of the board until further notice.”

He said even though the ASTT was allocated funding in past budgets there were no releases by the Government.

“We were running the ASTT on blank promises and from the directors’ pockets and putting together events.”

He said his first order of business is to pen a letter to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat requesting a meeting with him to discuss issues affecting the farming community.

“I am here to serve the farmers of T&T. Agriculture must be put on the front burner.”

Among the challenges, farmers have been facing, Rampersad said are lack of access to finance, land tenure and markets, while poor infrastructure has been a major bugbear.

Rampersad said one thing he stood against was Sookoo using her home as an ASTT office.

“I am not going to hide anything. I believe in transparency. When that issue came about to the board earlier last year she demanded $2,500 for paying a person to clean her house…saying her house is the office of the society.”

Rampersad said he was not in support of this move, as the ASTT has on office in Port-of-Spain provided by the Government.

“I stood up and say that we are also under audit please, let us try and do things in a correct way.”

In the end, Rampersad said he was overruled and the board agreed to utilise Sookoo’s home as an office.

“So the figure was dropped to $2,250. I was never in agreement that your home would be the office.”