UNC tells PM: Put refinery deal on hold

Opposition MP for Pointe-a-Pierre David Lee
Opposition MP for Pointe-a-Pierre David Lee

AN announcement on the agreement between government and Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd will be made soon.

But deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) David Lee is asking the Prime Minister to put that agreement on hold.

Ozzi Warwick, executive trustee of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) on Friday said the union will make an official statement soon. Patriotic is a fully-owned subsidiary of the OWTU and is the preferred bidder for the operation of the now defunct refinery.

Warwick, also a founding member of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), spoke to Newsday as he accompanied his political leader David Abdulah when the latter filed his nomination papers to contest the Pointe-a-Pierre seat.

Lee, who also filed nomination papers to contest the seat, which he held in the last term, said if his party is victorious it would want to have talks with Patriotic and examine the contract.

“Also, we may want to open back the proper procurement as far as the sale of it or a private partnership with the Government is concerned,” he said.

Lee said he was at pains to understand why at this time, on the eve of an election, the sale was being rushed.

“The procurement regulations are not fully operational, so for the PM to come at this 99th hour to sell a crown jewel like the refinery one has to ask why, without the proper procurement regulations in place.”

He said the regulations were “not only about contracts procuring, it also addressed the sale of assets, especially the sale of state assets.

“So we are asking the PM to hold his hand to ensure there is proper accountability and transparency in this sale of the refinery, if it happens.”

But Abdulah said he saw no reason for Government to put off the signing as this could jumpstart the economy.

He recalled several weeks ago he called on Dr Rowley to sign the agreement for the sale of the refinery and port facilities to Patriotic.

He said Government had no intention of negotiating with Patriotic when it closed down the refinery and sent every worker home.

When Rowley indicated he would give the OWTU first preference for the refinery, he said, the PM did not really expect the union would be able to form a company and put forward a superior bid that beat out all international competitors.

“But the union stood up, upped the ante and, therefore, the Government had no choice but to go that route. If they had another route they would have gone another route, trust me.

“So people must not think that the Government being prepared to sign an agreement is either of its own volition or was something that could rid the PNM of its original sin of closing the refinery, sending home all the workers of Petrotrin and destroying business activity in the south.”

“That call has now become a defining issue in this election not only in Pointe-a-Pierre but in the country.”

He said people should remember that when they go to vote.

“Dr Rowley cannot now escape the fact that he abdicated the responsibility to the country by the closure of Petrotrin.”

Abdulah said there were alternatives to restructure the company which had been ignored.

He described as reckless the UNC’s plan to reopen the refinery should it win the election.

“Of course that is a big if, but quite apart from that, there is absolutely no way the refinery could be restarted under a state operation because US$ 400-500 million would have to be invested to restore the plant and equipment to a state of safety and readiness for the refinery to be restarted.”

He said government does not have the money to do so as already the fiscal situation is very bad.

“It was made worse by covid19 and there is a huge fiscal deficit. The country cannot borrow more money, because our debt ceiling is very high. We are above where we should be in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio, and if any attempt is made to borrow, that is going to result in a major impact to our international ratings,.” Abdulah said.


"UNC tells PM: Put refinery deal on hold"

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