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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Former UNC senator seeks to stop refinery sale

Attorney Wayne Sturge
Attorney Wayne Sturge

FORMER United National Congress (UNC) senator, attorney Wayne Sturge is seeking to temporarily stop the pending sale of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery – now called Guaracara Refining Co Ltd.

In an injunction application, Sturge asked the court to order the chairman of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Energy Affairs, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, to convene a meeting of the committee.

The application, which will come up for hearing before Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh, also asks the court to give directions for the purpose of upholding the Constitution and rule of law and holding the Government, the Executive and the Cabinet accountable to the Parliament for decisions made with respect to the sale of the refinery.

On September 20, Imbert announced the sale of the former Petrotrin refinery operations to Patriotic Energies and Technologies Co Ltd, which is wholly owned by the OWTU.

The minister said from the results for the request for proposals for the sale of the refinery, Patriotic was the only bidder that offered an upfront consideration of US$700 million.

Sturge, in his constitutional motion, filed by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul, is seeking declarations that the failure by the JSC chairman to hold a meeting of the committee for the last 19 months was unlawful.

According to his claim, the attorney said he considered it his responsibility to uphold the law and do all he could to prevent the undermining of the rule of law in the public interest.

Sturge said the last meeting of the committee was on February 21, 2018, and no reason has been given as to why one has not since been held.

He said at the last meeting, the committee had as its “singular subject of consideration” the restructuring of Petrotrin.

“Before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament was given an opportunity to complete its task, the Board of directors of Petrotrin, who were before the committee at the time, took a decision to close the refinery operations of Petrotrin.

“This was a decision that was subsequently accepted by the Cabinet and the Government. This decision had the effect of placing on the breadline in excess of 5,000 workers directly and in excess of 4,000 indirectly.

“The macro consequences of the decision to the economy of TT are still being realised and some have not even been experienced as yet,” the attorney said, adding that at no time was the JSC told of a decision to abandon the restructuring exercise.

According to Sturge, the decisions of the Government and the Cabinet were taken “in an atmosphere of secrecy and mystery” and the decision to not convene a meeting of the JSC on Energy for the past 19 months, was “deliberate and intentional” on Imbert’s part, especially since as Finance Minister he would have been “intimately involved” in the decisions taken on the refinery.

“The decision was designed to ensure that the committee would be unable to discharge its functions during this most critical time in the history of the energy sector of our country when irreversible decisions were being made by the government with respect to the patrimony of our country,” he said.

“Had the Joint Select Committee on Energy been allowed to discharge its constitutional function the decisions of the chairman and the Cabinet to which he belongs would have been the subject of examination by the committee.

“The population is forced to accept the information that the Government, the Cabinet and the Executive have placed in the public domain justifying these decisions,” Sturge said.

“While there has been no shortage of public statements by the minister, the said minister by his inactions has deprived the Parliament of the ability to scrutinise those statements and hold the government, the Executive and the Cabinet accountable for the decisions that have been taken,” he added.

His claim pointed out that the Government was moving ahead with decisions that affected the people “in ways that will be irreversible” if implemented.

He also said any reason or justification by the Executive for the failure to convene a meeting of the JSC on Energy for the past 19 months, must be subject and anxious scrutiny of the courts.

“At the heart of the concept of the rule of law is the idea that society is governed by law and everyone is subject to the law and no one is above the law. Parliament exists primarily to make laws for the society in this country,” Sturge said in his claim.

The matter comes up for hearing on Thursday at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain.

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