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Sunday 15 September 2019
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[UPDATED] ESPINET GONE

Gov’t announces changes to ‘Petrotrin’ boards

ENERGY TALK: Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan addresses reporters at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.  Looking on is Finance Mnister Colm Imbert.
ENERGY TALK: Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan addresses reporters at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. Looking on is Finance Mnister Colm Imbert.

GOVERNMENT yesterday removed businessman Wilfred Espinet as chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL) and its subsidiaries as part of a comprehensive restructuring of TPHL and its successor companies. He was replaced by attorney Michael Quamina who has served as the Prime Minister’s attorney. Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Newman George, husband of Speaker of the House of Representatives Brigid Annisette-George, will chair the Guaracara Refining Company Ltd and Paria Fuel Trading Company.

With boosting Heritage’s oil production being critical to the economy, Government will find a permanent replacement for CEO Mike Wiley, who is undergoing cancer treatment in the US. Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Energy Minister Franklin Khan made these announcements at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s. Espinet was appointed Petrotrin chairman in September 2017.

Khan said Espinet’s board was charged with restructuring Petrotrin, given the endemic problems it was suffering from. These included a huge debt and high operating costs. In thanking Espinet for his service, Imbert said, “Few people in TT could have done the job that he (Espinet) did in restructuring the company, and also securing the financing of that US$850 million debt (over $5 billion).

Former Petrotrin chairman
Wilfred Espinet.

“The restructuring is more or less complete and we are now moving into operation. The board has done the job that we asked them to do.”

Imbert said it was not easy to restructure over $5 billion in debt “quietly and professionally” without a government guarantee. Espinet, via a spokesman, declined to comment on his removal. Sources said Espinet was not informed of the board changes before yesterday’s announcement. Imbert also said Government could not afford to have Heritage operating without a permanent CEO.

While Wiley’s illness was “no fault of his own”, Imbert said Government could not have him out of TT “running the company by remote control.” Heritage announced the creation of an interim committee to run the company while Wiley is receiving medical treatment. Imbert said a permanent replacement for Wiley has been identified.

He declined to reveal the person’s identity because “there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.” Any outstanding matters regarding Wiley’s contract, Imbert continued, would be settled by Heritage’s new board. Imbert explained that if Heritage can increase its oil production by 5,000 barrels of oil per day with oil prices at US$60 per barrel “you are going to get US$3,000 additional revenue every single day.”

Against this background, Imbert said the cost of any settlement to Wiley “is insignificant in perspective compared to what we could lose in terms of oil production.” He hopes that Wiley’s successor would build on his plans and implement them. Imbert also said if a replacement for Wiley was not found, it could have adverse implications for Heritage’s financing.

Khan said Heritage’s production is between 33,500 and 34,000 barrels of oil per day. Heritage’s profitability, Khan continued, is due to it receiving a price of West Texas Intermediate US$5 to $7 for its crude oil. Imbert described George’s chairing Guaracara and Paria as “a blessing in disguise.” Under the HDC Act, Imbert said, a chairman can only serve two terms in office. With George’s second term concluding at year’s end, Imbert said George will make a seamless transition into his new roles. While Heritage was seeking to hire 800 to 1,000 employees, Khan admitted this has been “slightly on the slow side.” He expected this process will be accelerated. Khan said the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery is still being evaluated for a potential buyer or lessor while Paria was formed to import fuel and “guarantee reliablity of supply in the fuel market.”

This story was originally published with the title "Govt removes Espinet" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.


WILFRED Espinet has been removed as chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL), Heritage Petroleum and Petrotrin.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Energy Minister Franklin Khan made this disclosure at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's on Thursday, as they announced changes to the board of TPHL and its subsidary companies – Heritage, Petrotrin, Paria Fuel Trading Company and Guaracara Refining.

Attorney Michael Quamina replaces Espinet as chairman of TPHL, Heritage and Petrotrin.

Quamina has been the Prime Minister's lawyer in several matters.

Imbert praised Espinet for the job he did to transform the former Petrotrin into entities which can be profitable, saying few people could do the job that Espinet did.

Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Newman George will assume chairmanship of Paria and Guaracara. Imbert explained that George is in his final term as HDC chairman and will make a seamless transition to his new roles at year's end.

With Petrotrin's successor companies moving into an operational phase, Imbert said Government felt it important that people with expertise in these matters take charge at these companies.

He also disclosed that a permanent replacement CEO will be found for current Heritage CEO Mike Wiley, who is being treated for cancer in the US. Given the importance of Heritage to the economy, Imbert said, Government did not think it wise for its affairs to be run by an interim committee while Wiley recovers.

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