Wondering about a refinery sale, public-sector cuts

A view of the refinery from Marabella. The OWTU is challenging the Finance Minister's reasons for rejecting its bid, for a third time, for the refinery. File photo -
A view of the refinery from Marabella. The OWTU is challenging the Finance Minister's reasons for rejecting its bid, for a third time, for the refinery. File photo -


I stood in my shoes and I wondered this week. I have been doing a lot of that lately.

This week it had to do with the ongoing claims by Mr Roget of the OWTU that the Minister of Finance simply does not understand the value of the OWTU’s proposal to buy the Guaracara refinery.

He and the senior members of his union's negotiating committee apparently know more about the international financing industry and the methodologies and principles on which it works, and in particular the difference between tax credits and tax concessions, or transferable tax credits and non-transferable ones than Mr Imbert and his advisers wearily speak of. And it appears that “expressions of interest” from Credit Suisse are as valuable as cash on the line, or actual contracts.

Let me say upfront that I am not an international banker, nor am I an expert in financing of any kind. So I confess that I might be wrong. That is why I am standing here in my shoes, as have been many other people as I, wondering.

I need help.

I really, really do not understand. From what I am reading it appears to me that Mr Roget wants the unco-operative Minister of Finance to pass his third proposal on to the Prime Minister because Mr Imbert has rejected it for the third time and he feels that the Prime Minister will approve it.

One of the things I wonder about is why Dr Rowley would approve the OWTU proposal as being a good one when Mr Imbert and his team of advisers cannot? Is Dr Rowley a sole authority? Or is it that being the top politician means that if he approves the new proposal OWTU will get the refinery on the basis of a commitment to pay over ten years the $500 million they said was needed upfront despite no actual cash being paid?

Is that how it is done? Even when local cartoonists are making “jokes” about how the Minister of Finance is diminishing what is left of the Heritage Fund? It seems that I am not the only taxpaying citizen that is confused.

Public servants head to work at the Inland Revenue Division in Port of Spain. Economists have recommended public sector cuts for decades. File photo -

There was an article this week on Facebook that indicated that Dr Terrence Farrell, one of Trinidad’s most knowledgeable and respected economists, noted that the World Bank has recommended that the Government cut public-sector salaries and wages by 40 per cent by 2022, which could either mean a salary cut across the board, or that by the end of the year the number working on pensionable contract will have been reduced by a third.

Could the intention be that the overstaffed and under-productive referred to by both the Prime Minister and the President, the ones that draw salaries but don’t feel that anyone has any right to admonish or discipline them for lack of performance, customer service, attendance or timekeeping will be able to collect their severance pay, their months of pre-retirement leave and accumulated vacation entitlements (did you know that some public servants get 35 weeks' paid vacation leave every year?)?

Mr Duke will be able to live for a year protesting that the World Bank has no right to make such recommendations to the sovereign government of TT. I will be wondering about that all next week.

But if Mr Farrell is correct, and our government is asking the World Bank to finance the retrenchment (and where else would they get the money?) it would appear that as my sainted grandmother used to say, "If you ask the piper to play your tune, and he does, you will have to pay the piper what he asks.”

Not that this is a new concept. Gordon Draper made the same observation about government overstaffing with underqualified people over two decades ago. At that time, male ministers were known to hire underqualified people for political or simply compassionate reasons, forgetting that in the civil service, as in the police service, people were promoted based on longevity. Twenty years later, they are just as unqualified as they were when they were hired, unless the government saw their potential, and willingness to apply themselves, as many genuinely did, and sent them through university.

Mr Draper’s report was ignored for political reasons. Perhaps, as Mr Roget seems to imply, in the same way that by not escalating the OWTU's third proposal to the Prime Minister, Mr Imbert doesn’t understand the politics of international financing. I am predicting that certain union officials, none of whom are known for their qualifications in finance, will imply that the minister, his advisers, Mr Farrell and the World Bank really do not understand how the current staffing of our civil service is necessary.

To give you an example: The Bahamas which deals with some seven million tourists annually has a tourism department staffed by 40 people. Tobago, where, in a good year, some 70,000 may stop in briefly (well it used to, I am told), has a tourism department with a staff of 400.

You know about Mr Farrell’s qualifications; let me remind you about Mr Draper’s. The website of UWI, Mona, Jamaica, where he was a senior lecturer, states: “Gordon Draper, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, was also a director of international development of the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management. His activities included research on governance and public sector management and doing consultancy projects for 25 governments in the Commonwealth in public sector management, human resource management and organisational development and change.” That is for starters.

I am still wondering why his recommendations for limiting public-sector staffing were ignored. If they had not been we might not have been in the financial straits we are now in. I suppose we won’t listen to “finest mind” Farrell’s either.

It looks like I may be standing here in my shoes wondering for a long time.


"Wondering about a refinery sale, public-sector cuts"

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