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