Telling Lake Asphalt move

In this September 28, 2021 file photo, Lake Asphalt employees kneel in protest for their wages outside the company in La Brea.
In this September 28, 2021 file photo, Lake Asphalt employees kneel in protest for their wages outside the company in La Brea.

After much uncertainty, the Government has announced something of a plan regarding the fate of Lake Asphalt of TT (1978) Ltd.

The company has been placed under a new line ministry, the Ministry of Works and Transport, with the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) designated as its “operating agency.”

The implications of this for workers at the company – who in the past have had to kneel and protest to be paid outstanding salaries – are not clear. When the Prime Minister announced the move at a political event on April 5, he was silent on the company’s industrial relations.

That is the first problematic aspect of the Government’s handling of this matter.

Unsurprisingly, trade unions were not impressed by Dr Rowley’s announcement, which came after talks with Minister of Energy Stuart Young and even his intervention in the disbursal of a subvention to pay salaries.

The Joint Trade Union Movement remarked in a statement, “Imagine workers and the union having to hear about the company being placed under another ministry at a PNM public meeting whilst the company’s leadership, via the board of directors and the CEO, are unable to shed any light on these pronouncements.”

That aside, the decision to place Lake Asphalt under Nidco is telling.

It suggests the Cabinet may have a vision for the firm – which is charged with the commercial development of the Pitch Lake, the world’s largest deposit of natural asphalt – as it relates to local infrastructure needs only. About 90 per cent of Lake Asphalt's revenue has in the past come from exports.

There has always been something of a sick irony in the fact that this country has in the past exported materials all over the world for road and surface paving, and yet a simple drive through our capital city – not to mention remote roads, including even the road to the Pitch Lake – reveals infrastructure badly in need of appropriate paving materials.

Placing Lake Asphalt under Nidco could be a good fit.

But what are the implications for the other aspects of the company’s operations, such as its cutting-edge asphalt-research projects and its management of the Pitch Lake itself as a tourist attraction?

Will there be scope for private investors, scientists, academia and other potential stakeholders to make proposals to get the most of this resource?

It may be hard to tell by just looking at it, but the Pitch Lake is an important heritage site, integral to this country’s history. With worries about its liquidity, is there a role for the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund to play in this? What of the National Trust?

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan has two-year projections of his ministry’s bitumen needs, needs which he hopes might be met by Lake Asphalt, even as he avers ignorance when it comes to the company’s current operations.

The Government must do better than the new line minister. It should address the entirety of the company’s operations.


"Telling Lake Asphalt move"

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