LAST week the government announced major changes to the leadership of its new state companies. Departing is transition leader Wilfred Espinet, who also served as chairman of all the state companies created in the wake of Petrotrin's dissolution.
Lawyer Michael Quamina is chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited while Newman George, the outgoing HDC chairman, will take over as chairman of Guaracara Refining Company Limited and Paria Fuel Trading company.
Neither man has any significant history of experience with the energy sector and will assume these critical roles based on their prior roles and successes as leaders in other sectors of the economy.
Espinet managed the transition from Petrotrin to today’s corporate structure and the government decided it was time to appoint new leadership to direct the state agencies.
Quamina will take control of these state companies while Heritage Petroleum is adjusting to functioning without a CEO after Mike Wiley, appointed last November, left TT for cancer treatment.
Espinet instituted an executive leadership team last week to manage the company during Wiley’s absence, believing that it would take longer to find a new CEO than to wait an estimated six months for Wiley to return. The government has already sent signals that it will seek a permanent replacement for Wiley.
Heritage Petroleum is charged with one of the key roles of the revamped energy sector, increasing oil production.
Espinet was ruthlessly blunt about his work during the restructuring process and prone, with an entrepreneur’s bent, to keeping his cards close until he was ready to play them. But there is no denying the thoroughness of his changes to the local energy sector despite the lack of enthusiasm to implement changes long acknowledged as necessary to refocus the national plan for energy exploitation.
The appointment of politically aligned individuals to the leadership roles of these new companies as the government begins its run to elections cannot be ignored.
Energy Minister Franklin Khan last week publicly lamented the slow approach to hiring an anticipated 800 to 1,000 employees for Heritage. The Energy Ministry has a simple choice here. It must decide whether a sustainable, long-term plan for the state energy sector is more important than short-term electoral success. The state cannot pursue both goals simultaneously.
Energy consultant Anthony Paul suggested the need for greater accountability from the new state companies in a Newsday interview, calling for improved reporting on large state assets in Parliament and public stock exchange listings that would demand improved reporting standards.
A government that designed an energy sector for a profitable future must also plan for transparency in its operations and regular reporting to its ultimate stakeholders, the taxpaying citizens of this country.