The decision to restructure Petrotrin has wiped the smile off Energy Minister Franklin Khan’s face. Khan told a political meeting in Marabella which discussed the resurgence of the nearby oil company on Tuesday night, that he “normally had a smiley face. But, tonight the smile is forced.”
Khan said the pending closure of the refinery was an emotional experience for him having worked in that company, in its different incarnations when he graduated as a geologist in 1980.
“Who I am and what skills I develop I owe it to Petrotrin and it hurts my heart to see where the company has reached,” Khan said reminding the audience that “his heart is not so good,” alluding to his health challenges.
He recalled as a young geologist how good it sounded when labour leaders were championing for “control of the commanding heights of the economy” which resulted in the 1983 merger of Texaco and Tesoro to form Petrotrin.
He submitted, “but the commanders of the commanding heights did not do a good job.”
He said when the People’s National Movement (PNM) assumed office three years ago this Friday September 7, designated a day of rest and reflection by the trade unions, the company was already on the verge of economic collapse.
He said in spite of the investment the refinery continued to bleed the company forcing the Dr Keith Rowley administration to put it right.
He said the company in its present configuration has a debt $13. 3 billion and was still owing the government taxes and royalties. He said the company presold products for two to three months to fund their operation, yet employees were earning exorbitant salaries, including a carpenter in the refinery who was among the top 50 earners, taking home up to $70,000 a month in overtime.
Members of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union who stood outside the community facility, prevented by police from entering the building where the meeting was being held, shouted that the $70,000 a month salary claim was a lie.
They also claimed Khan was not telling the truth about workers earning salaries amounting to $45,000 a month saying this had the effect of putting the public against them and setting them up to become targets of crime.
Khan said with this kind of mounting debt any prospects for a turnaround of the refinery was ‘illusionary.”
Referring to a Newsday article in which Congress of the People (COP) leader challenged him to debate the refinery closure, Khan also challenged the “head of the corpse (COP)” to first get a seat in the House of Parliament if she wants a debate with him on Petrotrin.
Seepersad Bachan in response told Khan to name the date as they already had a seat in the Parliament. That is the St Augustine seat held by Prakash Ramadhar.
She said she is not convinced that the closure of the refinery is the best option for the country that there are alternatives.