Espinet: I didn't recommend Petrotrin be closed

Petrotrin chair­man Wil­fred Es­pinet says while he told Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials that the re­fin­ery would like­ly not be prof­itable in a meet­ing in Jan­u­ary, he nev­er ad­vised Gov­ern­ment to close down Petrotrin.

Es­pinet made the com­ment yes­ter­day dur­ing cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by Oil­fields’ Work­ers’ Trade Union at­tor­ney Dou­glas Mendes SC, as the union’s in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions of­fence com­plaint against Petrotrin con­tin­ued.

Es­pinet al­so de­nied that be­tween the Jan­u­ary meet­ing and his even­tu­al dis­cov­ery that the re­fin­ery was to be shut down in Au­gust, he had made a sug­ges­tion to the Gov­ern­ment that Petrotrin be closed down. In fact, he said he on­ly dis­cov­ered the de­ci­sion was to be made dur­ing a se­ries of work­ing ses­sions over a four-day pe­ri­od in the mid­dle of Au­gust.

He said fol­low­ing re­ports com­piled by Solomon and As­so­ciates and pre­sen­ta­tions by the McK­in­sey group, the ini­tial rec­om­men­da­tion was that Petrotrin would be split in­to two com­pa­nies, with Petrotrin set to be a hold­ing com­pa­ny in that arrange­ment.

Es­pinet said when he told Gov­ern­ment his point of view in Jan­u­ary, he was ini­tial­ly told they want­ed to keep both the up­stream (Ex­plo­ra­tion/Pro­duc­tion) and down­stream (Re­fin­ery/Mar­ket­ing) op­er­a­tions of Petrotrin and the re­fin­ery. The two com­pa­nies were to han­dle the sep­a­rate op­er­a­tions as sub­sidiaries of Petrotrin, he said.

Mendes ques­tioned Es­pinet about a T&T Guardian re­port on Au­gust 13, in which Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley said the work­ers would not be thrown out on the pave­ment but would be giv­en eq­ui­ty in the new com­pa­ny. He asked if any sug­ges­tion about clos­ing the com­pa­ny had been made to the Gov­ern­ment be­tween that meet­ing in Jan­u­ary and the time the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished.

Es­pinet, as he did a few times dur­ing his cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, de­nied that a sug­ges­tion was made by him that Petrotrin should be closed down.

Es­pinet was asked to bring emails stem­ming from the work­ing ses­sions to as­cer­tain just when he learnt of the Gov­ern­ment’s plans, which has seen Petrotrin turned in­to a lega­cy com­pa­ny with four sep­a­rate en­ti­ties: Her­itage, Guaracara, Paria and Trinidad Pe­tro­le­um Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed tak­ing its place.

Es­pinet said Guaracara was cre­at­ed to keep the re­fin­ery’s as­sets, with a re­quest for pro­pos­als in place so that an in­ter­est­ed par­ty may in­vest in it.

“We are go­ing to moth­ball the re­fin­ery in the hope that some­one will take it over,” Es­pinet said.

Ear­li­er in the court ses­sion, Move­ment For So­cial Jus­tice po­lit­i­cal leader David Ab­du­lah said de­spite its strug­gles Petrotrin had not in­creased its fi­nan­cial bur­den on the state but had man­aged to pay its debts. He said this in­clud­ed gov­ern­ment-guar­an­teed loans as well as bond pay­ments and oth­er short-term loans which did not have gov­ern­ment guar­an­tees.

Un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by the state’s Se­nior Coun­sel Regi­nald Ar­mour, Ab­du­lah said while with­out fis­cal ad­just­ment Petrotrin would still force the Gov­ern­ment to use funds from the Her­itage and Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Fund, the com­pa­ny’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion had shown im­prove­ment in 2018 com­pared to 2017.

Ab­du­lah al­so dis­agreed that Moody’s In­vestors Ser­vice’s de­ci­sion to down­grade Trinidad and To­ba­go was large­ly based on the sta­tus of Petrotrin. He said the cred­i­tors’ at­tempts to re­coup their fi­nances from Petrotrin were not as a re­sult of the pend­ing court mat­ters, but due to the Gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment the com­pa­ny was to be closed.

In­dus­tri­al Court pres­i­dent Deb­o­rah Thomas-Fe­lix and mem­bers Al­bert Ab­erdeen, Kath­leen George-Mar­celle and Azeem Mo­hammed are pre­sid­ing over the mat­ter.

The cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of Es­pinet con­tin­ues to­day.

- by Peter Christopher

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