Movement of Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah is of the firm belief that the newly appointed board of directors at Petrotrin is not the solution to combat any of the problems the company is facing.
Speaking at a news conference at the MSJ’s headquarters, St Joseph Village, San Fernando yesterday, Abdulah said the challenges facing Petrotrin stemmed from the company having to abide by government policies implemented by the board. He said Petrotrin’s oil production has been falling considerably and its ageing infrastructure carries the risk of safety and the possibility of leaks polluting the Gulf of Paria and the Venezuelan coastline which, he said, would have huge consequences.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley had previously said Petrotrin had run up huge debts, the first of which becomes due in 2019 to the tune of US $850 million in one payment - and another smaller payment due shortly afterwards. On Friday at a news conference at the Piarco International Airport shortly before leaving for the US for a medical check-up, Rowley announced the names of the new directors. He said he hoped the new board would be able to restructure and turn around the company within the next two to three years. But what many did not know, according to Abdulah, was that he was also asked by the prime minister to consider being appointed as a member of the board. Abdulah said that he was asked to consider the position via a telephone call from on August 29.
“He thought I could bring the necessary competence, skills and knowledge that would assist Petrotrin,” Abdulah said.
He told reporters the request came as a surprise to him and while he thanked Rowley for the offer, he requested time to consider. The MSJ leader was among a team appointed to be part of a Petrotrin review committee that would meet with the standing committee on energy to discuss and analyse recommendations that would assist with the challenges at Petrotrin. On June 21, Abdulah said at meeting between both committees, which was hosted at the Prime Minister’s St Clair office, he and members of his team were not given a fair chance to present their recommendations and they were only allowed into the meeting for a ten to 15 minute period before the meeting ended. He said while considering the offer from the prime minister before making his final decision, he needed the responses to two crucial questions from Rowley. “I asked the prime minister ‘who is chairman?’ Also if Cabinet considered and agreed to the recommendations of the review committee with respect to the governance arrangements we had proposed.”
Abdulah said he was told by Rowley that Cabinet would decide who the chairman was and the board would have a certain autonomy with respect to decision making but would have to function within the ambit of government policy. Abdulah said given Petrotrin’s financial position, there would also have to be a clear input from the Ministry of Finance. He said he politely turned down the offer as it was clear to him the recommendations of the review committee were not considered. The recommendations, he said, entailed “governance arrangements” to enable the company to have consistent, focused mandate, facilitate long term planning and avoid the frequent changes in board and management. “The members of the board of directors are selected through a process which provides for comprehensive and transparent input and feedback from key stakeholders. The second recommendation listed included organisational structures.