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Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC MP.

Renuka Singh

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must resign now.

The call came yesterday from Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who slammed Rowley for the apparent flip-flop position on the sale of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery to Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd.

In a media release after Government’s announcement that it had rejected Patriotic’s latest bid, Persad-Bissessar described the collapse of the deal as “catastrophic” to the country. She called for Rowley’s head over what she described as an “unforgivable display of negligence and incompetence which has placed Trinidad and Tobago in grave jeopardy.”

Patriotic is fully owned by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and was selected by the State to take over the refinery back in October 2019.

However, at a media conference yesterday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Energy Minister Franklin Khan said the same company that won out the tender to take over the refinery was now out.

But Persad-Bissessar said the Government’s position change was not a surprise.

“Just as the Prime Minister lied when he said the refinery would not be shut down, days before doing just that, the PNM never intended to honour the pledge they made to sell the refinery to its former workers,” she said.

She said the joint conference with Imbert and Khan also raised more questions than answers.

“If Patriotic Energies had no set means of financing, on what basis did the Government award them the refinery in the first place?” Persad-Bissessar asked.

“Why was Minister Imbert so confident in October of 2019 that the refinery would be reopened in 12 months? It is clear now that all these promises by the Government pre-election to place the refinery in the hands of the citizens were just baseless election gimmicks.”

Persad-Bissessar said had the PNM Government been serious about addressing the citizens’ concerns, they would have dealt with the Petrotrin issue in a timely manner.

“However, they chose to put politics above people by allowing this to become yet another failed promise,” she said.

“Their incompetence and insolence have even worsened the state of the refinery, leaving it idle for so long. Given that the Petrotrin refinery has been shut for almost three years now, and with ever-increasing costs to restart it, who will now want to purchase this asset?”

Persad-Bissessar also asked whether Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was in line to purchase the refinery.

“For the past two years, the PNM has blatantly lied, giving false hope to the thousands of ex-Petrotrin workers now on the breadline that the refinery would be open. The people of Trinidad and Tobago must never forget this great betrayal by the PNM,” she said.

“The PNM kept promising the restarting of the refinery in the hands of the ex-workers but since 2018 to date, they have given nothing but excuses, keeping the OWTU and the ex-workers in a constant state of uncertainty.”

Persad-Bissessar said the destruction of Petrotrin, along with the crisis unfolding at the Pt Lisas Industrial Estate, was “due to Keith Rowley’s bad gas negotiations” putting the energy sector in “complete meltdown”.

“The ramifications of this are catastrophic,” Persad-Bissessar said.

“As the largest earner of foreign exchange, the collapse of our energy sector will affect every citizen. It means our current FOREX crisis will only get worse. Retailers have already warned that a food crisis is looming due to the inability of many to access FOREX,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar’s colleague, MP for Tabaquite Anita Haynes, also noted the breakdown of the deal.

“The Government continues to play its game of surprise, trifling with our billion-dollar assets. The Finance Minister has flip-flopped on this issue at almost every turn, constantly introducing new policy caveats which have negatively affected the sale of the refinery,” she said in a separate media release.

“The Minister of Energy is truly clueless and separated from the very stakeholders whose best interest he is mandated to secure. While he described the refinery as a cancer, the real cancer is the unemployment and consequent financial ruin that hundreds of households have been facing as a result of the Government’s blindsiding decision in 2018.”

Haynes also noted the “Government’s apparent indifference to the men and women stuck in limbo” after the closure of the refinery.

“There’s no sugar-coating the fact that the Government has abandoned citizens on the argument of dollar and cents. Still, even in that argument, there are flaws.

“We recognise the costs involved in selling the refinery, as well as rehabilitating the refinery towards restarting operations. But what of the opportunity cost? What of the losses accrued every day that the refinery remains dormant?” she asked.

Haynes, like Persad-Bissessar, questioned the loss of foreign exchange.