Opposition Senator Wade Mark has called on the Ministry of Finance to immediately suspend the contract of A&V Oil and Gas Limited while investigations into “fake oil” production and overpayment is ongoing by Petrotrin’s audit committee.
He has also called for the matter of A&V’s overstating of oil production to be referred to the joint select committee on State Enterprises for inquiry and report, and that the matter also be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Making these calls yesterday while debating a motion he brought to the Senate, Mark questioned how A&V was able to source funds to drill 30 wells in less than two years, and also how former People’s National Movement general election candidate and Petrotrin employee Vidya Deokiesingh became an expert in determining volumes of oil when his background was in the hospitality sector. Calling on the DPP and the police to investigate A&V, Mark said, “Those people were so bold, so strong and so sure of the Government’s support that when ordinary newspaper went to that place, they beat them. They brutalised them.”
Even before A&V, he said, three companies were accused of siphoning oil from Petrotrin long before A&V entered the picture. However “not enough evidence” was found to charge the companies with any offence.
Commenting on Deokiesingh, he said, the hospitality officer was moved from his post to work in the exploration and production sector in February 2016. “This reeks of a giant conspiracy that implicates high office holders in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. We have to connect the dots,” he said.
Mark claimed this was part of a “tunnelling” scheme.
Since the scandal has emerged, Mark said, there have been resignations from former chairman Professor Andrew Jupiter and Fitzroy Harewood.
“I can tell you one thing about Andrew Jupiter, he is a very decent person and he would not allow anyone to corrupt him,”Mark said.
Independent senator Dhanayshar Mahabir did not agree with the recommendation for a suspension but said A&V needs to refund its overpayment.
The Senate does not have the authority, he said, to refer the matter to a joint committee as that privilege resides with the House of Representatives and a Government minister, so he could not support that either.
However, he said Mark and Energy Minister Franklin Khan indicated that everything, including perennial losses and being highly indebted, seems to be amiss with Petrotrin.
As such, he suggested the motion be amended to enable the Energy Minister to refer the matter of the inefficiency of Petrotrin to the JSC. “The efficiency of Petrotrin is wider than the issue of over billing,” he said.
Disagreeing with the recommended suspension Mahabir said, “I would want the errant partners to be penalised, but we also want as much oil to be pumped right now given that the price of oil is getting better.”
The country has to ensure, he said, that more domestic operators produce bona fide oil to increase production and expand operations inland and offshore as that was the only way to raise revenue.