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Saturday 7 December 2019
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Business Day Editorial: Imbert unfair to Claire

Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

As if the unfurling tale of the fate of Atlantic’s Train One amid BPTT’s “disappointing results” from its infill drilling programme off the south-eastern coast of Trinidad, on Monday night, Finance Minister Colm Imbert decided to add one more bizarre dynamic to this already compelling story.

“The current (regional president) of BP(TT) is not a geologist. Nor is she a petroleum engineer. She’s an accountant. She’s an auditor but she has been working in the sector a long tome so therefore she has to rely on the technocrats, the geophysicists, the geologists, the engineers and so on to establish the framework for hydrocarbons and on this particular case, this particular individual decided to press the pause button, that’s all,” Imbert said in Parliament as he wound up the debate on the mid-year budget review.

He is, of course, referring to Claire Fitzpatrick, who took over the helm of the country’s largest natural gas producer and, subsequently, largest taxpayer, last year, after her predecessor, Norman Christie, also an accountant, was transferred to London.

Now, what Mr Imbert meant remains to be further elaborated by him, if he so wishes. But the implications are nonetheless there. He prefaced his comment that the leadership of BPTT had changed, suggesting then, that somehow, Fitzpatrick was unaware or else, incapable of fully understanding the nuances of the organisation she now heads, because she’s an accountant. It’s ironic, especially considering that Imbert himself is an engineer by training, and is part of a Cabinet headed by a man whose specialisation is volcanology – and both rely on data from technocrats to make decisions. Is it then, Imbert’s dismissiveness to Fitzpatrick is because she’s a woman? And not just any woman – one of the most powerful female executives in the country. Or perhaps that’s reading too much into what he is saying. What isn’t too much though, is that a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce of TT, found that among top management positions in TT only 25 per cent were women. Women at Fitzpatrick’s level, then are rare. What’s not rare is having her ability to lead questioned because of her gender.

Whatever the reason for Imbert’s unconscious bias (there was no real reason for him to single out Fitzpatrick), what he’s managed to do is shift the narrative from the actual issue – the “material impact” on BPTT’s gas output, and subsequently, TT’s revenues – to whether or not Fitzpatrick is good enough at her job to make these sorts of impactful decisions. He’s already tried to downplay the impact of these reports. Challenging multiple reports that BPTT had drilled four dry wells, Imbert insisted instead that it was in fact two wells drilled, and only one unproductive. The second would be put into production soon, albeit at lower and anticipated levels. He’s also maintained that this news will also not impact overall natural gas output, which is still on track to be at about 3.8 billion standard cubic feet per day for this year, on course to four bcf by 2021. This, despite the added loss of Dragon gas from Venezuela.

The gas from these BPTT dry wells were earmarked for Train One. The shareholders say it’s still early days yet to decide what the future of the Train One expansion project will be. For now, it’s wait and see, and we can accept the Government’s reticence to speak more on the issue, especially as it relates to negotiations and confidence in the sector. Until we know more, we suggest Imbert stick to the facts at hand and leave speculation of Fitzpatrick’s ability to lead alone.

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