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Wednesday 22 January 2020
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ROWLEY MAD

Unipet told to pay $m debt; buff for Opposition

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

In a fiery contribution in the House on Friday the Prime Minister took private gas station company Unipet to task; buffed the Opposition over energy company taxation, Petrotrin and the Dragon Gas Deal; and reported that OAS was still trying to get back money won by Government, in court battles, from the Point Fortin Highway project.

He was contributing to debate on The Finance Bill in the House and started off on the issue of Paria cutting fuel to Unipet due to unpaid monies and an unsigned agreement. The Prime Minister said the Opposition blamed the Unipet situation on the Government.

“Everything is Government fault,” he declared. Dr Rowley said that Unipet was been portrayed as a victim being fought down by Paria, a state entity. Rowley stressed this was a straightforward issue of a private business selling a finished product which had been bought by taxpayers. He said the company sold fuel for which it would have received cash.

“How then is this company ending up owing Paria almost $200 million?” He said the Opposition, instead of saying that Unipet should pay their bill and let the country get on with its business, is claiming Paria is “fighting down the unevenly yoked” Unipet.

“What is this sense of entitlement we have in this country? That somebody is responsible for you even when you are ridiculous and unproductive. Those are the things we need to change in this country!”

He said the Opposition in their earlier contributions, spoke of incentives the previous administration provided for energy companies.

“I wonder if people who served in government have a real understanding who the real beneficiaries are. They pat themselves on the chest about incentives and have done wonderful things for bp shareholders.”

He stressed when a dry hole is drilled it is the taxpayers who have to pay for it because it comes out of taxes. He said the Opposition framed the situation as a “we versus them” and the Government was taxing the companies. “If we don’t collect the taxes how will we service the country.”

TAXES NECESSARY

He said the Opposition was presenting the tax as a burden but the Government was asking those who have more to pay a little more and this was helping to put medicine in hospitals and do things for the country. He added that even with the taxes, energy companies were still reporting increased profits.

“We are not all yoked on the same cart. A few people are doing very well and the majority are catching hell.” Rowley stressed he was not elected to be re-elected but to fix problems.

“We are so colonially minded we feel if we please (the energy companies’) shareholders we will get praise.” He pointed out that Nigeria was producing barely more gas than TT but was earning $5 billion while TT was earning hundreds of millions.

BLOWS FOR UNC

He said the Opposition said the worse thing Government ever did was shut down Petrotrin. He added that the company had annual losses of $2 billion and was previously hiding losses on the books. He said with new accounting arrangements the company had to write-off a debt of $16 billion.

“(The previous administration) knew Petrotrin was hiding its losses.” He said while the Opposition said they would have continued Petrotrin in its previous form he did not believe it. “Not even you could have continued it.” He questioned what the Opposition would have done when faced with an US$850 million bond to pay what they would have done.

“You might have written it from your personal account,” he quipped, causing loud laughter and desk-thumping from the government benches. He said the Opposition may have let the company default and this would have led to a downgrading of the country.

“What would you have done?” He said the Opposition kept saying that he negotiated a gas price. “I don’t know the first thing about negotiating a gas price.” He said his visit to Houston in June was to get bp and the National Gas Company to resume talks.

OAS & DRAGON

He also commented on the Government getting back $921 million from Brazilian construction firm OAS Construtora after it declared bankruptcy and ceased work on the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin. An Opposition member shouted across the floor that the UNC got back the money. Rowley shot back: “You got it back? You got it back? You got it back because we went to the court and fought for it.” He said OAS fought to keep the money and will still arguing for it in arbitration. “When you say ‘you got it back’ is it innocence or are they still trying to fool the people.”

He also said the Opposition hit Government on the closure of the Yara ammonia plant but he questioned whether Yara should get has for a plant that is 50 years-old and inefficient. “Why is that a Government issue?”

He said another “failure” cited was the Dragon Deal with Venezuela. He pointed out TT only has proven gas reserves for the next ten to 12 years and lacks the land and sea acreage of the US or Australia. He said “next door” in Venezuela there was large proven fields and he thought everyone would have welcomed Venezuelan gas being used in TT business.

“Not my colleagues on the other side. As far as they are concerned it is to be despised, pilloried.” He also said the Opposition “jump out” to support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president. “We looking for a future in TT.”

He said the country was focusing on what was outside its borders hence agreements with Grenada and Barbados. He added that despite 17 years to work out unitisation with the Loran Manatee field with Venezuela Government was moving to cancel the “molasses of unitisation” and TT would extract the 27 per cent on its side. “What I have just spoken about is the life blood of this country.”

He said the lack of support for the Dragon Deal is not “treasonous” but it was disappointing.

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