The Minister of Energy in a challenging job. History has shown that few last in this crucial Ministry and in the history of the country since independence only three have survived five years in office.
What does the role of an energy minister entail?
Is it a gruelling task or one which is embraced and fulfilled for the greater good of T&T?
The Business Guardian reached out to some former energy ministers who shared their insights.
I became Minister of Energy in June 2011 and held the portfolio until September 2015.
I had one of the longest runs as Minister of Energy.
The portfolio is very demanding because apart form being responsible for the Ministry of Energy you also have some major State companies reporting to you such as Petrotrin, NGC and NP.
You also have to manage relationships with BP, Shell, BHP and the companies at Point Lisas and these are complex relationships.
The Minister of Energy is also on a constant hot seat.
I checked the records of the 10th Parliament and I discovered that I was the minister who got the most questions by the then PNM Opposition.
I had many achievements which will benefit the country for decades to come such as record levels of acreage award, the CGCL project in La Brea, the TTNGL IPO, high levels of drilling etc.
The biggest challenge was managing the natural gas shortage in the country but I was grateful that I had a great team at the Ministry of Energy that included the public servants and my personal staff.
I also had a lot of support from my colleagues in the then Cabinet.
Being Energy Minister is an opportunity to bring to life much of what I advocated, over the years, reform and strategies to maximize the benefits that will redound to the people of T&T.
Of importance was the removal of secret back room deals to be replaced by increased participation of the citizenry in ownership, local content and decision making.
Some of the challenges in the sector included the introduction of an attractive fiscal regime to reinvigorate and recommence exploration activity upstream with specific reference to the deep water blocks; adoption of cost-efficient methodologies and technology to enhance oil recovery and boost production in mature fields; the stalled negotiations between T&T and Venezuela for the cross-border field (Loran/Manatee); and Health, Safety and Environmental impact of ageing State-owned offshore production infrastructure.
Other challenges were lack of transparency and accountability in the energy sector, including regaining EITI’s candidate status and the deployment of an open and transparent process for the evaluation and selection of potential investors in the downstream sector bidding for tranches of natural gas; incentivizing carbon reduction strategies and energy efficiency measures to maximize valued output of every cubic foot of gas utilized in the downstream sector; diversification of the downstream petrochemical sector to facilitate increased value added, maximize local content and ownership and to provide opportunities for better quality jobs and services; accelerating the refinery’s gas optimization programme to facilitate increased profitability and capacity to repay existing debt; stalled modernization programme in the retail marketing sector and illegal bunkering; and the lack of adoption of energy efficiency measure and renewal energy in the public and private sectors including households.
Service to T&T as Minister of Energy and Energy Industries at that time meant that I got to be a member of the Government led by the late Prime Minister Manning in a period of renewed economic growth of the country.
It was in that period that we designed the expansion of the gas delivery system to 4.2 BCF per day.
The demand for the additional gas was created principally by construction of several new petrochemical plants and the fourth LNG train.
The government was able to leverage on this expansion to increase opportunities for indigenous service companies to get access to business opportunities. In addition, a significant number of jobs were created.
We created the platform fabrication yard at La Brea and the Cross Island Pipeline among several other projects.
We hosted two major international energy conferences which further enhanced the international profile of our country in the energy industry.
However, my greatest sense of satisfaction came from service to my constituents in Port-of-Spain South over the twelve year period that I was their Member of Parliament.
One of my biggest challenges surrounded the task of getting increased local content for our indigenous service providers.
At that time, the drive to increase local content in energy projects was not well received.
Another challenge was to restart the negotiation to achieve a mutually beneficial resolution to some of the cross-border natural gas issues in the Plataforma Deltana off of our South East Coast.
This work was not complete when I demitted office and it was carried on by successor ministers.
This has led to the possibility of monetization of those gas fields.
But the biggest challenge that I faced, along with Minister Khan, was the now discredited accusation of wrong doing while in office. In my own case, this turned out to be a blessing in that it launched my career as an international energy consultant.
This career has placed me to assist several countries, mainly on the African Continent, that are interested in learning how to replicate the success of the T&T model of natural resource-led national development.
As Energy Minister it meant I had the opportunity to continue the work done by others and to continue to ensure we had a revenue base for T&T.
And for me that was an important opportunity.
One of the challenges at that time was to continue the development of the sector and to put things in place to ensure we had a gas-based future.
Being Minister of Energy, in an economy that is primarily dependent on the energy industry, is a tremendous responsibility.
It requires a delicate balancing act among all stakeholders – producers seeking to maximize income from production sales, the State seeking maximum rents from those who would exploit our resources, communities seeking maximum employment opportunities and compensation for loss of natural spaces.
Serving as a minister whilst also serving as an elected Member of Parliament is even more challenging as each requires your full time attention.
All Government ministers are required to sacrifice personal and family time in the name of national service, but we do it because we understand the importance to the country.
Our service is our contribution to our nation.
Energy contributes a very significant amount to the GDP of a country and hence when you as an Energy Minister sit down you realise that any movement can carry your GDP up or down.
So it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility as an individual to the way you monetise that resource in the ground and how it contributes to your GDP in the future.
A lot of the relationships that exists among the multinationals and the energy companies of the world are very complex and it involves a tremendous amount of relationship building and you must have a clear and defined policy in terms of how you go forward.
Also, because energy is so divided…LNG, oil, a lot of refined products, gas…you have to determine exactly where monetisation will occur not only in terms of profitability but also in terms of GDP growth and human resources which is really a redeployment for the future.
On my challenges, Petrotrin was going through a rough time at that point in time, we had to do lay-offs and we did do lay-offs which as a huge challenge.
Secondly, as you do your gas audits which international companies will determine for you, you have to determine the accuracy of the audits to determine where I should put my resources.
At that time the energy sector was the greatest contributor to the GDP, foreign exchange and the major limbs of propping the economy.
In any context that carried a tremendous burden and tremendous responsibility and that is something you have to live with. You are in fact, the manager of the national patrimony.
Things have changed significantly since then but energy still remains one of the main pillars of the economy.
At that time the ministry was not properly staffed and it was extremely difficult to maintain staff because of the low salaries which we had compared to with the private sector.
But certain incentives were introduced and we gave the professional staff their professional allowance and we were able to do a good job of retaining staff so that we could effectively manage the economy.