Leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) David Abdulah has called for national clarity on the mortgage arrangements for the former Petrotrin refinery and port operations.
He said the Government should not be spooked by the UNC, saying the opposition party does not operate in the nation’s interest.
"Don’t get spooked. Continue the negotiations process with Patriotic (Energies and Technologies Ltd). That is the best and only way to get economic activities going with the restart of the refinery and port facilities," Abdulah said during a webinar on Tuesday.
"But Government, you have to come clean with what you knew and did not know with respect to the liens and mortgages. Are there other loans taken out with these assets to use as collateral?"
Reports are Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL) used the assets of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd as collateral for loans.
After the Government decided to restructure Petrotrin in 2018, TPHL was vested with the responsibility of managing the former Petrotrin’s oil and related assets. Its subsidiaries include Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd, Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd and the Guaracara Refining Co Ltd.
Patriotic, the preferred bidder, is wholly owned by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU).
Abdulah emphasised he was not privy to the details of the negotiations between Patriotic and the Government.
He charged that there are very powerful forces, which he referred to as "economic and political elites" in and outside the country that was opposed to Patriotic acquiring the refinery and port operations. He said for them, a trade union should not own a significant asset.
He also said opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the UNC, from day one, opposed Patriotic getting the refinery, and opposition MPs David Lee and Dr Roodal Moonilal spoke publicly against the refinery sale.
That might be linked to the MSJ leaving the People’s Partnership administration, he said.
He also suggested the UNC’s "buddy-buddy relationship with the US" might be another possible factor. Abdulah accused Moonilal of linking Venezuela, against which the US has sanctions, to the sale.
"All kind of nonsense, utter tripe, they are raising. The question is, why are they doing that?"
To Persad-Bissessar and the UNC on Venezuela and Patriotic’s bid, Abdulah said: "Their horse that they backed is on his way out. He does not believe he is on his way out. He is in total denial,but is on his way out."
"On January 20, their horse will no longer be in office."
Abdulah was referring to President Donald Trump, who was recently defeated by Joe Biden. Trump had appointed the US ambassador to TT, Joseph Mondello, he pointed out.
"He too will be on his way out. So the whole foreign policy situation of the US may very well shift."
On Monday, at a virtual meeting, Persad-Bissessar accused the government of fooling the OWTU into believing it could sell the Guaracara refinery and Paria assets to Patriotic, but said it had no legal authority to do so. The opposition leader claimed the refinery and port assets were mortgaged for US$1.173 billion.
Trafigura PTE, which she said had a troubled history, reaffirmed its decisions to give US$500 million to restart refining.
In response, Abdulah accused the UNC of creating mischief.
"Mrs Persad-Bissessar is trying to put not just a fly in the ointment – she is trying to put a spanner in the works to scuttle it. She wants to scuttle it because she has always been opposed to it."
Patriotic had initially offered an upfront cash payment of US$700 million for the refinery.
Persad-Bissessar said that this purchase price was now reduced to US$500 million and Patriotic was also asking for government to cover $26 million in fees.
Abdulah opted not to comment on reports of a proposal letter to a bank and documents Patriotic sent to government officials, saying such information was part of "sensitive negotiation."
He referred to a newspaper report that quoted the Finance Minister as saying the Government has to give Paria US$20 million for importing fuel. The obligation would disappear if the refinery is restarted.
He maintained that citizens would benefit significantly if Patriotic acquires the assets.
Two weeks ago, the Government rejected Patriotic’s proposal for the bid. The Prime Minister re-established the evaluation committee to review Patriotic latest proposal by the end of November. The original deadline was October 31.
Abdulah said, based on information in the public’s domain, the Government must answer several questions.
"Was permission/approval sought for a state company to incur these debts, and was it obtained?
"If so, how the Cabinet then agreed to sell to Patriotic when they knew what was taking place when the assets were mortgaged?"