Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
Government Information Services Limited

Trinidadian authorities had put the Petrotrin refinery up for sale to private buyers. A group calling itself the Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd comprising former oilfield workers, union leaders and foreign investors was picked as the preferred bidder, earning the right to revive the lifeline refinery but all indications are that its bid is struggling.

Earlier this week, cabinet threw a spanner in the plans and works of Patriotic’s bid to take over, resuscitate the closed plant and reemploy thousands of breadline workers, saying the bid lacked proper details regarding environmental compliances, statutory approvals, purchase price and taxation requirements. It was therefore moving to explore other options, meaning second and third placed bidders.

But an appeal from the union for a review has found favor with Prime Minister Keith Rowley as he expressly appointed a review committee and gave Patriotic time to get its act together.

The committee reexamining the bid has until month end to submit its report even as concerns are growing about time wasting and the steady deterioration of plant infrastructure as the months roll by.

Until its closure in late 2018, Petrotrin had supplied CARICOM clients with up to 25,000 barrels a day and a further 38,000 to buyers outside of the region.

Like the sugar industry in neighboring Guyana, the refinery had been the linchpin of economic activity and life in large parts of South Trinidad. Its closure was devastating to workers, small, medium and large scale supporting businesses and led to major political problems for the governing PNM administration.

From all appearances, the PNM had given every assistance and indication that it had wanted to help Patriotic with its strong oilfield union connections especially so because it also had strong local links and inputs.

Minister of Energy, Franklin Khan expressed regret at the developments, noting that months had passed by with nothing to show for protracted efforts.

“Patriotic, cognizant of what the key outstanding issues are, made a final proposal ahead of the deadline on 29th of October. Today, I regret to say that their final proposal does not address outstanding issues that could lead to a signed contractual agreement. And that is the state of play as we speak,” the minister said.

Union leaders and Patriotic principal Ancel Roget said government should exercise a bit more patience and should work with the group to resolve the situation.

“We are concerned but at the same time our request is for the government, in the interest of Trinidad and Tobago, to stay their hands but at the same time give an opportunity for this latest proposal, which is in line with the minister’s offer which seeks to get over the hurdle of the stumbling block that they have, and allow for that to be properly evaluated.”

Roget anticipates that more than 4,000 workers will be reemployed if and when the refinery cranks up again, noting that significant plant deterioration has taken place and repairs will run into almost $500 million. Up and running, he argues that the state will benefit from taxes from such a large group of workers, contractors, subcontractors and related activities he said.