PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley told a political meeting in San Fernando on Tuesday night he was aware the closure of Petrotrin disrupted families and communities, but his government did not abandon the 4,626 separated workers.
He said it was a hard choice but one which had to be done to ensure the economic survival of the country.
He said of the 4,626 workers affected, 3,400 being permanent and 1,226 casual or temporary, a total of $2,7 billion in severance was shared among them with the average worker taking home approximately $.5 million.
“Those 4,626 persons were not tossed on the pavement and forgotten, tax payers paid out $2.7 billion to those 4,626 many of whom are re-employed.”
He told the audience at the Pleasantville Community Centre that Government had kept its promise to re-employ about 1,000 of the workers in the new business model arrangement that had succeeded Petrotrin – 800 in Heritage and 200 in Paria.
“Today I can report to you that of that 1,000, Heritage has employed 147 directly and contractors working for Heritage have employed 534 persons for a total of 681. Of the 800 expected to be employed 681 are on the job, of course they are not all on the tax payers payroll.”
Similarly, in Paria he said of the 200 jobs promised, 129 are working for the company, of which 99 are employed with contractors.
Rowley also sought to clear the air on the bid to operate the refinery, accusations by the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) about insider information following a disclosure by Energy Minister Franklyn Khan that it may be awarded to a foreign entity. The OWTU has made a bid to operate the refinery.
He denied any interference or information about who the successful bidder would be by his government. He said the process which began in January attracted 77 expressions of interest which has whittled down to 25.
He said Cabinet has appointed a 12-member team, chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Vishnu Dhanpaul to evaluate and assess the bids in a transparent manner and make recommendations.
Rowley said the committee was in the process of site visits and evaluations and by the third week in August, “binding offers will be in and that will be the end of the search process.”
Following this, recommendations will be made and by the end of August and Cabinet will decide whether to accept or reject the proposals put forward.
He said it was always the intention of Government for the country to stay in the refinery business, just not in the business of importing the equivalent of 100,000 barrels a day, refining and selling at a loss of US$7 on every barrel.
“We know once we escape the burden of finding oil to put into it (refinery) it will be good business for TT.”
In an address which lasted for over one hour, Rowley said he did not understand the loss of faith and confidence in the country, pointing out that the country did not always have a Petrotrin.
He recalled Point Fortin once had a refinery which was shut down, “but Point Fortin did not shut down.”
He said the Government had to take steps to restructure the financial situation as Petrotrin which was threatening the entire country’s financial situation. Petrotrin he said, was living on borrowed money and borrowed time because tax payers money was keeping the company up.
With a drop in volume and price, he said the country was losing $20 billion a year in energy revenues for the last three years and, if it did not restructure, this coming August the country would have had to find US$850 million to repay Petrotrin’s debt.
“We are in a transition period, we are not perfect, but we are going in the right direction.”
He said, with the refinanced debt, Heritage was now operating and conducting its own business with an option to borrow and pay its own debt freeing up the Ministry of Finance.
He said the company was also looking to increase its oil production and drilling operations had moved from zero wells being drilled before the restructuring to 18 rigs now at work.
“Off the bat that is 400 jobs engaged on the rigs to drill for oil and that is what is going to fix this country’s problem.”
He chastised those who said Petrotrin’s oil was bad oil, with high sulphur content and sour.
“We are getting higher prices than anticipated because the market is good at the moment. We want more of that oil to sell. “
He said once production was increased and the company was able to sell the product at a profit, the country would get a good return from the restructured company.