Eight months into its second term, the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government has suffered a major blow with the passing of former party chairman and Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan.
Khan, 63, who had a history of heart-related illness, died at his Maraval home early on Saturday, Communications Minister Symon De Nobriga confirmed in a statement.
“It is with a deep sense of sadness that we announce the death of Minister of Energy and Energy industries the Hon Franklin Khan. Minister Khan passed away peacefully at home early this morning (Saturday),” he said.
“The Government of Trinidad and Tobago extend our sincerest condolences to his family at this time and will keep them in our collective thoughts and prayers.”
Noting Khan had held portfolios both within the PNM and Government, De Nobriga said he will be remembered as a “tireless servant of his country, this Government and the PNM.”
The Prime Minister also regarded Khan as a committed public servant.
A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said Dr Rowley is extremely saddened by the passing of his colleague and friend “who will be remembered as a man who dedicated his life to public service.”
It added Rowley, who contracted covid19 on April 5, “mourns the loss of a patriot and son of the soil.”
Rowley, who is currently in quarantine at the PM’s official residence in Blenheim, Tobago, also extended condolences to Khan’s family.
Khan got covid19 vaccine
Khan was among the parliamentarians who received the first dose of covid19 vaccines last Tuesday.
National Security Minister Stuart Young, who ,along with other divisional heads, received his vaccine at the First Infantry Battalion, Camp Ogden, Long Circular Road, St James, on Saturday, urged people to not speculate about what may have caused Khan’s death but to wait for the results of the autopsy.
He said the family should be given “space and respect,” during their time of grief.
Young described Khan as a very close colleague for whom he had a great deal of respect.
“(I want to) take the opportunity as a colleague of his, and as someone who had a great deal of respect for him, to extend my condolences to his family and our sympathy to them, a man who gave great service to Trinidad and Tobago, and really one of our unique characters in the Cabinet of TT since I’ve been serving,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, who has been at the forefront of the country’s battle with covid19, also avoided making any pronouncement on Khan’s death.
“Any information related to him – condolences to the family, first of all – will either be coming from the Office of the Prime Minister or through the line ministry,” he said.
A 60-year-old Princes Town man, who had a heart condition, died of a blot clot on Thursday, days after he was vaccinated, although health officials have said there was no evidence the vaccine was linked to the clot before his passing.
Up until news time there was no official word from the Government on who is likely to replace Khan as energy minister.
De Nobriga told Sunday Newsday he has not yet been privy to that conversation.
“I cannot say that there has been any conversation around it, whether official or unofficial. I think right now, it is just about making sure that Minister Khan’s family is settled, because he was a very loved member of the Cabinet and government.”
Originally from Guayaguayare, a small village on Trinidad’s east coast, Khan was a petroleum geologist by profession.
The North Eastern College alumnus enjoyed a distinguished career, having spent two decades in the energy sector both locally and abroad in a wide range of positions at the technical and managerial levels.
During his professional life, Khan has also held the positions of PNM chairman, MP and government minister.
Under late prime minister Patrick Manning, he served as minister of works and transport from 2002-2005 and once boasted of being one of the more popular cabinet ministers at that time.
Khan also served as MP for Ortoire/Mayaro from 2002-2007, having defeated then incumbent Winston “Gypsy” Peters.
His early political career, though, was not without controversy.
Faced bribery charges, health challenges
In 2005, during his term in the Manning administration, Khan and then energy minister Eric Williams were indicted on corruption charges after former PNM councillor in the Mayaro/Rio Claro Regional Corporation Dansam Dhansook levelled bribery allegations against them in relation to a seismic survey for an oil exploration project.
Khan maintained he was innocent and resigned as works minister pending the outcome of the matter.
Dhansook withdrew the allegations against the men and the charges were dropped in the court five years later.
To date, Khan and Williams were the only TT politicians to be charged for corruption while their party was still in power.
Some years after his exoneration, Khan resumed his political career.
After the 2015 general election, Khan became a senator and was appointed Minister of Rural Development and Local Government and more recently, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries.
But many in political circles and other quarters felt that his signature broad smile did not mask the physical and emotional toll the court matter had taken on him.
In 2016, Khan was hospitalised while on vacation in Thailand.
Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister at that time, dismissed speculation that Khan had suffered a heart attack.
Rather, Young said he was hospitalised because of a viral infection which caused excess fluid led in his lungs.
But shortly after his return from Thailand, in February 2017, Khan took leave after having a medical procedure for a heart-related issue.
The Government said Khan’s surgery was successful and he would remain on leave while he recuperated.
In April 2020, he underwent another medical procedure, which forced him to skip the Ninth Extraordinary Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting. It was held virtually.
As Energy Minister, Khan had the unenviable task of presiding over shutting down the refinery at state-owned Petrotrin – a move which placed hundreds of workers on the breadline.
Hard decision to make to close Petrotrin
He also had to ensure TT remained competitive in global energy sector, despite falling oil and gas prices.
In September 2018, Khan told a public meeting in Marabella that the pending closure of the refinery was an emotional experience for him, having worked in that company, in its different incarnations, when he graduated as a geologist in 1980.
“Who I am and what skills I develop, I owe it to Petrotrin, and it hurts my heart to see where the company has reached,” Khan had told the audience, reminding them that “his heart is not so good.”
And earlier this year, in February, when a motion of no-confidence was moved against him by Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee in the Parliament, he boasted that, under his stewardship, Petrotrin became a “success story.”
Lee had accused Khan of non-performance in the energy sector and mismanagement of state assets, which led to declining oil and gas revenues.
Khan, during the debate, noted market prices remained outside the control of the Government.
But he insisted he tried his best to manage expenditure while meeting the demands of stakeholders.
On Saturday, the PNM reflected on Khan’s contribution both as a party chairman and minister.
In a statement, the party’s PRO Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing recalled Khan had served as chairman from 2002-2005 and later from 2010-2018.
“During that time, he worked tirelessly to reshape and prepare the party for governance,” she said.
Lezama-Lee Sing said Khan’s warm and infectious smile was the foundation upon which many friendships were built.
“His fatherly counsel to those who served alongside him was highly sought after and deeply appreciated.”
Lezama-Lee Sing said Khan’s political and professional knowledge, his capability and passion for his country were the hallmarks of his legacy of love and service.
In the statement, PNM general secretary Foster Cummings said Khan served well both in the party and in government.
Khan’s Cabinet and senatorial colleague, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat added: “I am shaken, I am shocked. I have lost a good friend.”
Rambharat said he and Khan spoke at length on Friday.
“It was partly about Mayaro. He laughed and laughed. My prayers are with Laura and the family.”
The PNM’s Tobago Council said it was also saddened by Khan’s passing. In a statement, Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine lauded Khan for his “valiant and selfless service to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“We join his family as we mark this tremendous loss and celebrate his life,” she said.
Davidson-Celestine said Khan was always willing to listen and encourage.
”There is so much that we can learn from him. Even through trying times when he had his legal battles, he was always pleasant with his unique smile and showed much tenacity. he is gone but will never be forgotten.”
Tobago Council chairman and former Tobago West MP Stanford Callender recalled he and Khan were parliamentary colleagues between 2002-2007.
“We had an excellent relationship when he was chairman of the party,” Callender said.
“He was outstanding in this role and operated with a sense of pragmatism. He had a vision for the party and was full of commitment and passion for the organisation.”
Callender added Khan’s love for Tobago was always apparent.
Khan leaves to mourn his wife, Laura, and two children.
Franklin Khan at a glance
* Bachelor’s degree in geology and geography from UWI, Mona, Jamaica.
* MBA from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business, UWI, Trinidad.
* President of the Geological Society of TT on two occasions.
* Director of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) from 1986-1990 and as chairman of National Petroleum Marketing Co Ltd (NPMC) from 2001-2002.