Over the last two weeks I have written at least five articles on management decisions taken at state-owned National Gas Company which have cost the company over $400 million and counting.
For reporting on this major public interest issue and bringing the facts into the public domain, which is the essence of journalism, I have been attacked by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy and their proxies.
All have attempted to rubbish the reports while stoutly defending the NGC and, more specifically, its president.
Curiously, in performing the media’s role as watchdog, I have not only been vilified by a government that show no appetite for holding the NGC to account but by individuals trading on their past in the profession of journalism.
In one bizarre case, Keith Subero an employee in the Office of the Prime Minister brazenly resurrects my late mentor, David Renwick, to cry shame on me while condemning my journalism for being based on information from whistleblowers.
All I will say to this is that every investigative journalist understands the value of whistleblowers who are people who serve their country by having the courage to take the risk of bringing wrong-doing to light in the public interest.
Today’s revelation that the NGC wasted another $200 million, under the leadership of its President, Mark Loquan, on another failed project, merely rubs salt into the wound of citizens who are the ultimate shareholders of the NGC.
To be clear, no one has suggested that the NGC is unprofitable, or that it is not a valuable asset, or that it is not in a business in which it competes with large multi-national players, but what has raised its head is the apparent mismanagement of the enterprise, its weak governance structure, the quality of its decision-making process and the loss of public funds.
Lest we forget, these are the incontrovertible facts which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, his government and its proxies have failed to respond adequately to.
1 The NGC spent US $24.7 million or $168 million behind a Turnaround (upgrade) of Atlantic LNG Train 1 plant aware that it did not have the gas for the plant and was relying on gas that had already been committed and contracted to downstream petrochemical companies.
No amount of finger-pointing or name-calling will change this fact. Nor will it change by suggesting that the inner-Cabinet and NGC management are the only ones who went to school and know everything while the rest of us are lucky to have the best salesman in the world.
The NGC’s own Chairman Conrad Enill admitted the extent of the miscalculation when interviewed by i95.5 fm last week: “We committed to the downstream producers that once they wanted the gas, the gas would have been available to them. So we moved the gas back into that facility. And the challenge the NGC had with having gas, having to pay for the gas, and having no opportunity for converting it to revenue was resolved.
“In those circumstances therefore the investment in keeping Train 1 operational to use the gas for LNG, was no longer required because the gas was back into the downstreamers and the company had been restored to the revenue position that it was looking for.”
2 We are yet to hear an answer to the fundamental question of whether the NGC and the Government have located natural gas for Train 1. If so, when is the plant to restart and, if it is not going to restart anytime soon, has the investment been effectively lost?
To say that the loss of $400 million is nothing in an attempt to stay in the LNG business, but that $80 million is too much to spend on police vehicles to protect the population or that $100 million is too much to provide scholarships to our brightest students confuses the public.
3 Despite the loud ambient noise, the Government remains silent on its controversial and legally dubious granting of a personal indemnity to members of the NGC board for approving the Train 1 Turnaround agreement.
4 Equally deafening is the silence from Rowley administration and its proxies on the question of why, after three months, the NGC stopped paying for the maintenance of Atlantic Train LNG 1 when it was so confident about having gas to restart the plant.
5 Railing against the foreign multi-nationals in a narrative of “we against them” with the Government as saviour does not distract from the core question surrounding the waste of the $400 million and counting by the NGC.
6 In today’s Business Guardian lead story the NGC admits to having lost $197.5 million on a project that it realised it no longer needed and tries to spin it as having saved $125 million since the project was not completed.
This is akin to gambling away $800 of $1000 and boasting of having saved $200.
As the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert prepares his 2022 budget he must have cringed when he heard the attack on bpTT and Royal Dutch Shell, the two largest natural gas producers in the country, and whose investment money we need to keep the energy sector going.
Minister Imbert, I am sure knows that companies are in business to make money, they have a duty to maximise profits in the interest of their shareholders.
The make-believe notion that they will invest hundreds of millions of dollars because a salesman suggests to them that Ruby is a good deal is just imaginary talk, full of sound and fury, because if it were not profitable no such investment would be made. We must embrace the private sector as the engine of economic growth.
Government must limit its role to the provision of efficient services to the population. It must provide security and safety to its population.
It must only keep the most profitable and well-run state enterprises that are of strategic importance to the country. The rest must be sold off to the private sector.
The time has come when the state enterprise sector stop being as the former Attorney General in a PNM government, John Jeremie suggested, a place for political patronage.
In closing, I would like to apologise to my friend David Renwick for being indirectly responsible for him being dragged into the government’s propaganda war.
If he is looking on, I imagine him in his glee. He was a great supporter of my work which was more on the hard news side. On the eve of my departure from the country to go to university some years ago, he organised a luncheon for me.
He truly supported my focus on the energy sector and while I don’t profess to be a clairvoyant I suspect he would object to being misrepresented by those who claim to be part of the glory days of journalism.