Reports of a positive outlook and increased productivity from local and regional plants were met with scepticism and concern from one shareholder of Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL), during the annual general meeting on Friday evening at Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s.
Martin Jerome, shareholder and former employee of TCL, took the opportunity to question the validity of some of the data presented during the report of managing director Jose Luis Seijo Gonzalez, when the floor was opened for questions.
Accusing Gonzalez of reporting “half-truths”, Jerome said he was not convinced the data presented was entirely factual and called for greater transparency from the company.
“I have worked for 40 years and eight months at the TCL. For eight years I have been retired. Some of the things he (Gonzalez) is implying are half-truths. Some of what he is saying are truths.
“The company isn’t where it used to be, that is true. The last dividend that was paid I got $2.48 and to change the cheque was $15. The corporate social responsibility he was talking about is a one-off event.”
Jerome also criticised the consistency of TCL’s corporate social responsibility to the areas surrounding their manufacturing plants, saying that in his Claxton Bay community, they only recently received street lights.
“On the 14 of this month TTEC just came and put up lights and after reconnecting the lights, we realised the transformer was bad.
“The CEO is misleading some of the shareholders. I want the company to grow and make money.
“Anytime he leaves out 10 permanent people, he takes on 10 contractors and my pension is in jeopardy and if you’re not employing permanent people to build and have the pension rolling over.”
Responding to these concerns, chairman Wilfred Espinet said while he understood Jerome’s position, he tried to reassure him that his pension would not be threatened and there were certain economic challenges that hinder some initiatives from being executed.
“You will appreciate that the environment you are operating in today is more difficult than it was earlier on.”
Citing a new digital portal for reporting corruption or misconduct, Espinet also attempted to reassure Jerome that the company would take all reports seriously. Responding to concerns of a reduced tariff in Barbados, Gonzalez, said he was not sure why that government made such a decision but maintained his stance on protecting Caribbean manufacturers from cheaper foreign products.
“We have been struggling with the previous (Barbados) government when they reduced the tariff. We really don’t know why they did it and that is why we took the government to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
“We believe that we are right. We believe that laws should be followed, we do not lobby the government, we just ask them to follow the law. If we don’t protect our interest and ensure that the laws and whoever is bringing in products that are not produced in Caricom, are paying taxes, it will be very difficult to compete with that.”
Gonzalez also encouraged all stakeholders to see the true value that local manufacturers bring the company and said TCL was not interested in importing cement to Trinidad while sacrificing jobs.