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National survival at stake

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:40

Trinidad and Tobago, even though small in size, is a significant player on the global stage, especially in the natural gas and petrochemical sector. Over the past decades we moved imperceptibly from oil to gas.

However, we are still deeply connected and involved in the production, refining and marketing of oil, a business that has been struggling for quite some time. Such is our involvement in this business, that the liabilities of the state company threaten the credit rating and the very financial stability of the country as a whole.

I ask you to recall that in January 2017, in an address to the nation, I invited you to turn your attention to the troubling state of affairs at Petrotrin. At that time I alerted you to the complexity of the issues associated with the company, in particular, how it affected all of us, the citizens, especially from a financial point of view. As an example, the international rating agencies have considered the country’s sovereign rating status on the basis of the troubled financial status of the oil company and strongly warn of further downgrades if nothing significant is done to improve our position in this worsening exposure. I reminded you that there is a $US850 million bond (TT$6 billion) that is coming due for payment in the form of a single payment in August 2019 and another of almost US$700 million that would be due soon after.

It is with mixed feelings, one of sadness and of resolve that I return to this issue today, after months of review, analysis and consultations. As you are aware the future of Petrotrin has been the subject of much negative speculation for the past several months but inevitably we must come to the time of decision making as we are forced to abandon the procrastination and finger pointing which have only served to worsen the eventual outcome.

I appreciated the importance of the oil and gas sector to the well being of Trinidad and Tobago before becoming Prime Minister and that is why two of the first actions taken by the Cabinet soon after September 2015 were to appoint the Standing Committee of Energy, the sub-committee of Cabinet charged with the responsibility of deciding and directing policy in the oil and gas industry. We also appointed the boards of directors of both Petrotrin and the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (NGC).

On Tuesday 28th August the board of directors of Petrotrin, after months of dedication and hard work, in analyses and consultations, met with its employees and their union representatives to announce plans for changes that would be implemented in the coming weeks and months to get the company on a path to sustainable profitability. These measures are expected to stop the taxpayers funding operations that are losing billions of dollars and to stop the haemorrhaging of much valued, and much demanded, foreign exchange, US dollars. The primary objective of the announced interventions is to transform the business of the company from chronic money losing to a return to profitability.

To some, these changes may appear drastic, but the situation at Petrotrin requires drastic action. It requires intervention now, in fact before now, but the country’s decision makers, whilst knowing the problem, shied away from the negative responses that were certain to accompany any corrective action. In short, the Petrotrin fix was always seen to be bad for politics and even one’s political survival but we have arrived at a place now where its ongoing failure threatens the national survival.

Such is my lot.

I humbly accept it as the embodiment of the oath of my office, to act “without fear or favour, without malice or ill will” to any person or group of persons. This Government does not have the luxury of not attending to this age old problem. Time is not on our side.

To those whose knee jerk reaction to this very real crisis is to threaten chaos, to burn down the country, to spew invectives, to demonize and toss insults, none of this assists in addressing the issue in any meaningful way. This PNM Government which was responsible for building this country knows that strength and compromise are not mutually exclusive.

I would also like to remind our people that we did not always have a refinery and a Petrotrin. We came to this place because a PNM government in an earlier time took equally far reaching steps to purchase and amalgamate the failing assets of the private sector in visionary leadership to bring about that which we are now called upon to salvage and reposition.

In presenting to you the new vision for Petrotrin it is important to describe the journey to this point.

The oil industry has and continues to be a major industry in Trinidad and Tobago. It had its early beginnings with the discovery of oil in La Brea in 1857. The discovery of oil created interest among a first wave of companies such as Apex (Trinidad) Oilfields Limited, United British Oilfields of Trinidad (UBOT) and Trinidad Leaseholds Limited (TLL). With production increasing to one million barrels per day a number of refineries, including the Point Fortin refinery in 1912 and in 1917 the Pointe-A-Pierre Refinery, were established.

As Trinidad and Tobago became established as a proven oil province, international oil companies Royal Dutch (Shell), Texaco, British Petroleum and later Tesoro began operations in the country. These IOCs were succeeded by state-owned Trinidad and Tobago Oil Company Ltd (TRINTOC) and Trinidad Petroleum Company Ltd (TRINTOPEC) which were merged into the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin).

The oil industry in Trinidad and Tobago has a chequered past and has had to adapt to a series of domestic and global factors to ensure its survival. The industry has gone through periods of boom and bust. The initial early success in the 1920s profited from the then oil boom and led to development of new population centres in South Western Peninsula such as Hard Bargain, Retrench and Point Fortin. However, by the 1930s discoveries of large oilfields in the USA contributed to an oversupply situation and a global fall in oil prices. The combination of low oil prices and labour issues contributed to the decline of oil profitability in the domestic economy. The latter period 1940 to 1960 was a period of consolidation and saw the entry of the international oil companies Shell, Texaco and British Petroleum.

In the early 1900s there were several small refineries operating in Trinidad, including plants in Palo Seco; Santa Flora; Brighton, La Brea and Point Fortin. These were all closed over time as they became non-viable, either because of aging technology or supply and cost challenges. The Point Fortin refinery was the last to be shut down in 1990 to make way for Atlantic LNG as Trinidad and Tobago shifted its emphasis from oil to natural gas.

Following a period of growth, the industry was beset by rising costs, competition from supplies of low cost crude from the Middle East and Africa and construction of new refineries in Europe and the United Kingdom. This led to a decline in production, prices, and the subsequent withdrawal, first by Shell, and then Tesoro and Texaco from the domestic energy sector.

Oil refining started in Point a Pierre in 1917 with a production of 1200 barrels per day (bpd) and by the 1980s Texaco, the owners of the refinery with a supply of oil from all over the world took production up to 355,000 bpd, much of it fuel oil which was in great demand in those days.

By 1984 this refining business was in trouble and losing money, facing closure by the international oil giant. It was against this background of uncertainty and even despair that on August 30th 1984, under Prime Minister George Chambers, the already antiquated and failing refinery was purchased for $189.2 million of which $98m was paid in cash and the balance paid in refined product over a ten-month period.

In March 1985, a few months after we bought the Texaco refinery, an article in the New York Times reported, “The Government agreed to buy the money-losing refinery, officials say, mainly to save more than 3000 jobs.”

It was against this background that our negotiating and advisory team which included Dodderidge Alleyne and Euric Bobb, two of our most distinguished sons of this nation, advised that the refinery throughput be immediately cut back to 120,000 bpd and it was noted even then that there was a need for refinery upgrade to reduce the high yield of fuel oil. Today with a refining capacity of 140,000 bpd the local production available for refining is 40,000 barrels. We really depend mostly on a daily importation of 100,000 bpd which we refine at a significant and constant loss. With the help of in-depth analyses by local and foreign expertise we have looked at a number of operational business models for the refinery operations and they all indicate that the refinery is and will continue to be an increasing money loser. In fact, the analyses show that the rest of the company, Exploration and Production, if operated properly and separated from the refinery it could be a good business which could produce handsome dividends to the shareholder, the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago. It is this advice that has finally been accepted by the Cabinet after about a year of intensive work.

Within hours of the last meeting with the board to sign off on the acceptance of this direction and on this decision to close the refinery and get out of the oil importation business, I as Prime Minister, requested a meeting with the majority trade union, the venerable OWTU. This meeting took place at the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday 21st August, 2018. Tough as it was and emotive as the situation is, in the presence of a group of ministers and public servant and a seven-man executive group from the union, the Government outlined the whole scenario of the conclusion of the yearlong exercise and indicated to some surprise that in order to meaningfully restructure the company the refinery operations must cease.

There is no gainsaying the fact that we have benefited well from the Chambers government purchase in 1984 but we have been struggling with the refinery since then. In the meantime as our oil production fell consistently the cost of operations increased virtually uncontrollably and we basically operate a refining business which is largely dependent on foreign oil inputs. All the other refineries in the region which had this same business model, in Curacao, Aruba and St Croix, have long since closed because they saw it as not a viable business. In Trinidad and Tobago we soldiered on and took the opportunity to the furthest that we could carry it and that is where we are now.

Permit me a moment, this evening, to share with you, the stakeholders, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, who are the owners of Petrotrin, why these changes are necessary now and how we got to the decisions that were announced last week.

The Petrotrin from TEXACO

Sadly, the new entity Petrotrin which was entrusted with the country’s proven oil reserves has failed to fully deliver on our expectations. There have been many instances and/or arrangements which can only be described as gross mismanagement of the national patrimony. Every project within the past few decades has been subject to massive cost overruns and lengthy delays.

The Gasoline Optimization Programme, which in 2005 was estimated at a cost of US$350 million (approx TT$2.450 billion), was completed in 2013 at a cost of US$1.8b (approx TT$12.6b).

Its Gas to Liquid Project, which originally estimated at a cost of US$165m (approx TT$1.155b), was abandoned after Petrotrin had incurred in excess of US$450m (approx TTD$3.150b) and its assets were recently sold for US$35m (approx TT$245m).

The latest of these projects, the Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel Project, was estimated to cost US$113m (approx TT$791m) and to date Petrotin has expended US$413m (approx TT$2.891b). Whilst the project is 98% mechanically completed it cannot be operated because the structural specifications were not adhered to, meaning the foundation is faulty and cannot be used and what is worse no one nor any entity has been held accountable for this expensive travesty. The cost to rectify this omission is estimated at US$350m (approximately TT$2.450b), money which we do not have and cannot easily borrow.

Unfortunately, the nightmare does not end with these disastrous projects, the company now borders on insolvency as its cost of operations far exceeds its revenue. Survival has only been possible through the non-payment of taxes and royalties owing to the Government as well as the procuring of Government guarantees for loans from financial institutions.

On its assumption of office in 2015 the Government recognised that Petrotrin would be a major challenge. Therefore, as stated, one of the earliest decisions of this administration was to appoint a broad-based Committee, chaired by Energy expert Selwyn Lashley, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy. It also included Labour representatives and Leroy Mayers, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance. They were to do an overview of the situation and make recommendations.

Following upon the Lashley report being submitted to the Energy Sub Committee of the Cabinet it was subjected to separate review and deeper analysis by the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Finance and by Petrotrin itself. Subsequent to the report of all these entities a new board was appointed with a mandate to review the entire state of affairs of the company and come up with a clear business plan for its turnaround. This work has been done.

In 2016 the management of Petrotrin provided an update on the company’s operations and its financial situation. The presentation was not re-assuring and highlighted the following: Cash flow Challenges - the then current global prices for crude and petroleum products impacted negatively on Petroleum operations and as result the company was seeking a guarantee for short term working capital credit support. At the end of 2015 short term loans already amounted to US$715m (approx. TT$5.005b).

Deficient Asset Integrity - The deficiencies have been reflected in major spills. The sum of $7b was estimated for the required upgrade and maintenance work for plant, equipment and installations. La Brea, the Gulf of Paria, the southwestern peninsula and the Venezuelan territory have already experienced this nightmare.

Declining land and marine production - Oil production averaged 45,000 barrels per day and to this day continues decline. This decline was partially due to the company’s cost of exploration and production and also due to the use by the company of its cash resources on the refinery side including that purchase of approximately 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day, instead of using the cash on exploration and production.

Manpower - the company was heavily overstaffed and there were deficiencies in technical competencies in key disciplines. Manpower costs then accounted for about 47% of recurrent expenditure and the company was exploring a reduction in staffing.

Financial Forecast - Management projected a loss of $648m in 2016 and return to profit of $635m by 2020. Debt was projected to fall from $12.3b in 2016 to $7.2b by 2020. The actual loss for 2016 turned out to be not $635m but $4.3b. Management’s projections were far removed from reality. Unfortunately, this kind of disconnect from reality is shared by other key elements of the equation.

The Lashley Report of June 2017 was received by a Government alarmed by the deteriorating financial position of Petrotrin. The situation cried out for intervention and restructuring

That Lashley Team’s assessment of Petrotrin is instructive and outlined the following:

• Petrotrin’s oil production has been in steady decline.

• That Petrotrin was overburdened with debt. The net debt at financial year-end 2015 amounted to $11.4b. Government provided guarantees for short term loans of US$230m (approximately TTD$1.610b) to support its operations and to meet financial obligations.

• Taxes and royalties owed to Government amounted to $3.1b as at February 28, 2017.viz the company was not complying with the tax laws and even when it collected taxes from companies that paid their taxes to Petrotrin for onward transmission to the Ministry of Finance Petrotrin was huffing and utilizing those monies in its own operations.

• The company was unprofitable and the outlook was for a worsening of operations unless there was a significant capital injection (which could only come from the Government which in its current financial situation is in no position to undertake these kinds of bailout expenditures).

• There was a need for a paradigm shift in the governance and management of Petrotrin. Based on its findings the Team submitted two recommendations:

• The imposition of governance arrangements, which allow for transparency and accountability, including the selection of members of the board, and the company be managed as competitive business, aimed at becoming a viable entity.

• The company be restructured as three independent business units, namely Trinmar, Land Exploration and Production and Refining and Marketing.

In keeping with Government’s commitment to transparency, a meeting was held by the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries with the OWTU which was led by its President General on Wednesday 19th July 2017 where the report was discussed.

At the meeting the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries outlined the unsatisfactory financial position of Petrotrin, which for the nine months ended June 30, 2017 included the following:

• Trinmar loss of $124m;

• Refining and Marketing loss of $1.038b;

• Working Capital Deficit of $6.577b; and

• Royalty and Taxes to Government of $3.220b owed to the Ministry of Finance under law.

The Minister also shared with the OWTU the recommendations of the Lashley Committee for the restructuring of Petrotrin. The OWTU supported the idea of restructuring Petrotrin into Business Units, the need for greater accountability and the strengthening of the board of directors.

It is noteworthy that in 2017 the company’s auditors advised that it write off over $4b in accumulated losses. This had a serious impact on Petrotrin’s balance sheet at a time when it was already financially crippled.

Following its review, Cabinet in September 2017 accepted the report and recommendations of the Lashley Committee for the restructuring of Petrotrin. The details and specifics of that restructuring was now to be worked out and actioned.

Cabinet also agreed that:

• The restructured Petrotrin must be managed and governed as a competitive business, aimed at becoming a sustainable profitable entity.

• The company engage the recognised trade union representing the employees of Petrotrin to discuss cost reduction and survival strategies required for the company to continue.

In order to treat with this very serious and urgent assignment by September 2017 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago appointed a new board of directors at Petrotrin and gave it a clear and specific mandate - to identify the specific problems at Petrotrin and take the steps necessary to make the company sustainable and profitable.

Prior to the appointment of the new board of Petrotrin, I informally invited the President General of the OWTU to discuss the way forward for Petrotrin, in anticipation of the outcome of the work of the new board but unfortunately this invitation was declined. It has always been my principle in dealing with Petrotrin to engage all stakeholders and provide us all with opportunities to work together to find solutions. I also invited Labour to sit on the new board of Petrotrin but that too was declined. It should also be noted that when the Government hosted, at the Hyatt, the Spotlight on the Energy Sector, once again the OWTU declined, on the grounds that they were not invited.

Notwithstanding these responses, the Government stayed focused on the task ahead and on which it was firmly engaged. The report of the team (the Lashley Committee) appointed to review the operations of Petrotrin and make recommendations for its restructuring was laid as a Paper in the House of Representatives and referred to the Joint Select Committee on Energy Affairs on Friday November 10, 2017.

The committee discussed the report at a number of meetings, which included public hearings with both Petrotrin and the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries.

Now that the actual decisions have been taken in keeping with the recommendations and reviews, professional experts’ overviews and detailed analysis, it is disingenuous for any person, especially those involved, to plead lack of transparency and suddenness of Government action which should now be set aside in favour of “consultation” and “Parliamentary” discussion. These calls are nothing but self-serving, stalling tactics and political subterfuge, intended to maintain the status quo, even as the company sinks daily into a deeper quagmire and the whole country’s financial situation becomes more exposed to disastrous downgrade if the Petrotrin problem is not addressed.

Petrotrin is Trinidad and Tobago’s largest state enterprise. It operates in the industry that has been the country’s lifeblood for more than a century. It has within its portfolio some of Trinidad and Tobago’s most prized land and offshore oil and gas acreage.

This is a company that is supposed to be one of the major contributors to the national economy. When such an enterprise is losing money to the point where it can’t comply with the law, we have a major problem. As I said before, Petrotrin has become, for some time now, a ward of the treasury instead of a contributor to the treasury.

What this situation means is this:

a) money that the company should turn over to the ministry of Finance is held within the company for its own use (illegal)

b) money that is with the Ministry of Finance and needed to service the health sector, social service and other national priorities has to go to the Petrotrin to keep it afloat. This reflects itself in shortages of health care staff, insufficient medicine in the hospitals, reductions in CDAP and similar deprivations.

In the education sector we have many schools where construction has been stalled for want of funds and overall, contractors who did development works for the state are owed hundreds of millions which we are struggling to pay, so that children all over the nation can get their education in a safe and comfortable environment.

There are urgent sustained priorities in National Security where we have had to ground four helicopters because we cannot afford to pay the millions to maintain them.

In the social services sector, we are unable to provide an extra dollar to the vulnerable people who need it most, nor can we bring a few more needy persons onto the programs even though their circumstances warrant the assistance. We are having difficulty convincing Public Servants that they cannot look forward to any significant pay increases since the money is just not there to do so at this time. Yet the Minister of Finance is having to backstop huge losses at the refinery with little or no hope of recovery.

So you see fellow citizens this is not just a Petrotrin issue. We are all in this together. We have all been paying towards the losses and debt that I mentioned. We are all paying to keep the bad situation going and we will all benefit when we fix it.

The current board of Petrotrin sought to get a thorough understanding of the situation at the company and worked with ‘best in class’ advisors and petroleum industry experts - both local and international - to determine possible options given the company’s critical financial state and its deteriorating assets. This is an opportune moment for me to tell you that the nine member board of Petrotrin is one of the most qualified and experienced state enterprise boards, despite suggestions otherwise.

From the onset it was apparent that while there was some potential on the Exploration and Production side of the business, Refining & Marketing was at best marginal. The refinery was losing money on every barrel of oil it refined.

In December 2017, the new board met with the Government to present its findings and later met with Petrotrin’s unions and its employees to do the same.

The Government also met with the OWTU and other unions in February 2018 and amongst the issues discussed it was indicated to the unions, including the OWTU, that the Government was intending to have a public symposium with representatives of the business community, labour and government to discuss the energy sector, this was the “Spotlight on Energy”. It was intended that the state of Petrotrin should be addressed at the Spotlight on Energy; unfortunately, labour advised that this seminal event should not be held and refused to attend or participate in this national discussion. Labour was the first stakeholder body to be informed of this intended initiative.

It was recognised that the company and unions had a common interest with respect to the survivability, sustainability and profitability of Petrotrin. Notwithstanding its profitability in the distant past, the company and the unions understood that Petrotrin must become competitive within the principle of international benchmarks to be profitable.

Petrotrin’s business model has become obsolete and uncompetitive and its operating practices are inefficient. The company was nowhere in line with global industry standards and best practice. In fact the company’s operations are identified as being among the most inefficient in the world.

Left as it is, Petrotrin will require an immediate $25b cash injection just to stay alive. There is no way that the company can find this money. No financier will lend it because the company simply will not be able to repay such an additional loan. The Government certainly cannot ask you, the taxpayers, under our current circumstances to bank-roll this state of affairs. If not fixed, on this scale, the company is projected to continue accumulating losses at a rate of about $2 billion a year.

Maintenance of the status quo is not sustainable. It is unfortunately not a viable option. To do so is to saddle future generations with a massive debt burden and, at the same time, undermine the Government’s ability to fund urgent and necessary infrastructural works and social development. This affects every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. If not dealt with now, the negative effects will simply just continue to get worse by the accumulation of more debt.

To get the refining side of the business to a point where it might have a chance to break even would cost $7b. This would involve significant staff cuts, huge assumptions regarding efficiency improvements, a new Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel facility and infrastructure upgrades, all of which are impossible to finance.

The Government’s vision is for Petrotrin to be profitable and internationally competitive and a leader in the local energy sector; an employer of choice and a source of national pride.

The board is developing a model for Petrotrin that is designed specifically to manage its assets to yield the most value for Trinidad and Tobago.

The company will be better structured, with improved work processes and the capacity to respond quickly to changes in the international market.

Our Point-a-Pierre refinery is a hundred and one years old and has reached the end of its commercially viable days. It is now at a stage where it is haemorrhaging cash and the cost of rehabilitating it is way more than its potential to ever be profitable, competitive or sustainable.

The only commercially sound and viable option is to close the refinery; export Petrotrin’s oil which will be produced by an efficient and aggressive exploration programme and to import products to replace those previously supplied by the Point-a-Pierre refinery. This will move the company from a state of chronic money losing to one which will turn a tidy profit for the taxpayers.

The refining assets of Petrotrin can now be put in a separate company for opportunity attention. The OWTU will be given the first option to own and operate it on the most favourable terms.

The decision to close the refinery was taken after detailed analysis and deep introspection. This is not a decision that was made lightly or easily. Options were explored and reviewed. We sent the board back on a number of occasions to consider different scenarios and possibilities. At every step the effect on workers and their families and the communities that rely on refinery operations was considered.

Workers and Contractors

The Government is acutely aware of the traumatic effect of this development on all the workers, their families and the wider fence line communities such as Marabella, Point-a-Pierre, Gasparillo, San Fernando and surroundings. In order to minimise the overall negative effects of this inevitable decision to get out of refining the Government will ensure that the workers who are surplus to the requirement of the renewed effort leave the company with an attractive separation package that should be well received and backed up by the assured pension payments to come. The wider population in these fence-line communities will benefit from some deliberate additional Government expenditure on infrastructure and social support.

Everyone involved in this process is acutely aware of the very significant impact that these the decisions will have on Petrotrin’s employees and their families. The difficult fact is that we had no choice. To have left the company as it was would have only made the situation worse. The decision would have been taken out of our hands and we would not have been in a position to cushion the effect of the changes.

By moving to fix the company now, we are in a position to treat employees with care and concern by softening the effects of the required adjustments. The company will treat every employee with dignity and provide services such as financial advice and employee assistance programmes for psychological support.

Workers are expected to receive significant financial packages upon ties being severed with the company.

In Refining and Marketing, approximately 1,700 permanent workers will be affected. In Exploration and Production, employment levels are to be reduced from 1,700 workers to approximately 800 persons. A large number of these workers, those over 50, may be able to exit by way of attractive early retirement packages.

As the company now focuses on significant expansion of exploration and production activities, this will positively impact the communities of the south western peninsula. It will be a significant re-invigoration of the oil economy in these areas bringing much new or expanded business not just for Petrotrin but opportunities for the many service companies which will be associated with this new business model.

In the coming weeks the Government will take part in the announcement and participation in at least two significant industrial projects in the southwestern peninsula. Initiatives like these will certainly contribute to the new beginning that we are working towards.

Increased drilling and production works, both on land and offshore, are to be expected in the new business model. There will be increased use of service contractors and suppliers and this should cushion the effects of loss of some opportunities at the refinery.

National Fuel Supply

Trinidad and Tobago consumes less than 25,000 barrels of refined products a day (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.). The detailed economic analyses have shown that it makes far more sense for us to export the 40,000 barrels of oil that we currently produce and import the fuel we need. The company will now focus on increasing the production of barrels of oil and each barrel will be sold externally on the open market.

This will help to improve the country’s earning potential.

In catering for the nation’s needs the company will move smoothly into bunkering of refined products for supplying the regional market without having to lose money through our own refinery inefficiencies.

This week’s announcement is a first step in that direction, it is now for everyone involved - the leadership, the employees, suppliers, contractors, lease operators and labour representatives to transform this potential into reality.

With the termination of the Refining business and the redesign of Exploration and Production, Petrotrin can now independently finance all of its debt and become a sustainable business. It will also ease the burden on the Ministry of Finance thereby making more resources available to service the needs of the wider population in all areas of national development.

There is opportunity for new entrepreneurship to grow and workers and businesses should not be misled and fall prey to misinformation and fear mongering.

Change like this is always difficult and even traumatic; but the good of the country must look ahead.

We see this as an opportunity to save the country from financial disaster and turnaround a situation that had become an unsustainable drain on taxpayers. But let us not be naive, there are elements in our society who do not view this change the same way but see it as an opportunity to further their own ends in mischief making.

I am appealing to all those directly or indirectly affected to be strong and have faith in your country.

I want to give you the assurance that the same resolve that took us to make the decision to close the refinery is the same strength of character which will see this Government put your anxiety ahead of any other consideration and will undertake to allocate resources so that calm and prosperity will soon return to you and your neighbourhoods.

During this difficult period of transition and uncertainty there will be those who have different views on the way forward; this is only natural; it is important that everyone who works for or with Petrotrin remains committed to operating in the best interest of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago and acknowledge their obligation to the nation.

We appeal for the understanding and support of all contractors and employees (permanent; temporary or casual) at this critical time in the company’s history. Unnecessary work stoppages and other contrived industrial actions are not in the nation’s best interest. This will only obstruct the already embattled company, and delay this irreversible and unavoidable process geared towards converting a money losing company into a profitable enterprise for the benefit of the entire nation.

It is my sincere hope that you will recognize the implications that such action can have on our stakeholders, including those to whom we are heavily indebted and ask that you make the best decision not just for you but for your children.

Let us all work together to make the Petrotrin the success it can be. I am confident all persons will place national interest at the forefront and that the re-invented Petrotrin will assume its rightful place in the oil and gas sector of Trinidad and Tobago.

Categories: News

T&T Guardian launches new website today

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:32

The T&T Guardian, as part of its 101st-anniversary celebration, will be relaunching its website and Digital Guardian App today.

The new website boasts of a clean, simple, easy-to-read design that complements our recently redesigned paper. The new web pages are fully responsive for seamless, immersive viewing on your desktop, mobile or tablet.

The redesigned Guardian App will also be available for download on both Android and iOS devices today. If readers already had the app installed, they simply need to update it in their App Store or Google Play Store. From the app, readers can share their favourite articles or pages with friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest.

So for the excitement of a brand new look, log on to www.guardian.co.tt now or download the Trinidad Guardian in the App Store and Google play store to take us with you wherever you go.

Categories: News

Carolyn wants national debate on Petrotrin

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:30

Calling for a national debate on Petrotrin’s closure, Congress of the People leader Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan yesterday predicted that millions of dollars will have to be paid in damages to Samsung Engineering and Construction if the Petrotrin refinery is closed.

Speaking at a meeting in Penal with Petrotrin workers, Seepersad-Bachan said Samsung Engineering and Construction has already counter-sued Petrotrin over the incomplete construction of the US$260 million Ultra Low Sulphur diesel plant.

Saying the plant is 90 per cent complete and would have increased the refinery’s profit margin by $US$6 per barrel, Seepersad-Bachan said once the refinery is closed, arbitrary proceedings will come to an end.

“We will lose our counterclaim and Samsung has a claim against Petrotrin, so if we lose and Samsung wins their claim, millions of dollars will be going out in damages. Who is going to pick up that cost? Has the company instructed its lawyers to settle this matter and pay damages?” Seepersad-Bachan said.

She called on Government to do a socio-economic impact analysis on the refinery’s closure before taking a decision to shut it down.

Calling on workers to join the struggle and prevent the closure of the refinery, Seepersad-Bachan said, “We need to have a proper debate on this issue. Let us unite and stand up for what is right and what is ours. Let us not sell out the patrimony of our country.”

She also called on Government to reveal the contents of a report done by external consultants McKinsey, who was hired to review the restructuring of Petrotrin.

“Let the country see the details of this report. Why is it shrouded in secrecy?” she asked.

Categories: News

Retired CAC monitors waiting two years for $$

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:25

Two years after monitoring the now discontinued Continuous Assessment Component (CAC) of the Secondary Entrance Assessment, retired educators are still awaiting payment of their gratuity by the Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, several of the 25 former school supervisors and principals who were employed on contract by the ministry in January 2016 are suffering from various illnesses in their senior years. They said the money needed to purchase the required drugs are too much for their pensions and they are depending on their $20,000 gratuity.

In 2012, the CAC was introduced to diversify the SEA syllabus. From the academic year 2013-2014, 20 per cent of the marks originated from Standard Four performances and another 20 per cent from Standard Five. Pupils were assessed in dance, drama, agricultural science, citizenship education, visual arts education, music, physical education and character education. However, in April 2012 the CAC was discontinued as Cabinet decided it was being done to the detriment of students.

Former monitor David Maharaj said they were hired to ensure the assessment was an appropriate standard and there was quality marking. After the CAC was scrapped the ministry reassigned them to other duties, like monitoring the curriculum. By September 2016, three months shy of their contract expiry, they were called to a meeting at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre in Couva and told of the termination of their contracts.

According to Maharaj, their contract had a termination clause that absolved the ministry from paying for the entire duration of the contract. However, he said an official told them because they were being terminated early the ministry would make every effort to pay the gratuity expeditiously. But this month makes it two years since they were severed.

Another former monitor, Benison Jagessar, told the T&T Guardian that many of the former monitors have been to the ministry inquiring about payment. However, the standard response was that the ministry is still awaiting terms and conditions from the Chief Personnel Officer and this must be done before payments can be made.

“A lot of the monitors need to get their money because they are getting sick. They need it for health reason. We checked the ministry a few months ago and we got the same story. When I asked them when they will get the terms and condition, they said they don’t know,” Jagessar said.

“A few monitors have died since without getting their payment. We are retirees, some in our 60s and 70s and some of us have health problems. We are depending on this money to help us.”

Contacted on the issue, Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis said he would ask the Director of Finance at the ministry to investigate the claim and have it rectified as soon as possible. He said because of the bureaucracy in the public service the ministry has to get the terms and conditions of the monitors’ contracts before payments can be made.

Categories: News

Olatunji into next round of UK’s X Factor

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:23

T&T soca artiste Olatunji Yearwood has made it through to the next round of the United Kingdom’s X Factor show after delivering a very energetic performance of his hit “Bodyline” on one of the UK’s main competitive stages yesterday.

Yearwood, 33, who was described as a “superstar” and who won the Soca Groovy Monarch/International Soca Monarch in 2015, wowed the judges – Simon Cowell, Louis Tomlinson, Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field – with his energetic performance, which he did in the company of two dancers.

In the intro video leading up to his audition, Yearwood said he loves the UK and has been “coming up and down” since he was 15 years old as he has family there. He indicated that he thought the X Factor was the best stage to promote soca music worldwide. Yearwood ended the brief video clipping with his famous “Tadow” chant.

Giving a “footwork” teaser as he walked out on stage, Yearwood, dressed in a mustard-coloured jacket suit, hyped up the crowd by getting them to chant after him “Whoa…whoa.”

When Bodyline started playing, Yearwood was joined onstage by the two female dancers, who also gave exuberating dance moves that shook their entire bodyline.

Yearwood ended his performance with an “I love you” and received a standing ovation.

Cowell, in delivering the last needed vote, said: “It’s exactly the kind of act I love finding on a show like this…you have 4,500 yeses.”

Yearwood’s success at this first round, which aired live at about 3 pm local time yesterday, quickly went viral on social media with scores of people expressing pride and wishing him all the best in the remainder of the competition.

Categories: News

Mom begs for help to send son to school

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:20

A teenager who lost his home and then his father, who drowned two years ago, is now fearful he will lose his chance at a successful life because his mother cannot afford to send him to the secondary school he passed for.

While thousands of children head out for school today, the teenager, who passed for Moruga Composite in this year’s Secondary Examination Assessment (SEA), will be at his Lengua home wishing he could have attended.

During an interview yesterday, his mother Nadia Singh said she has been begging for a transfer for him to attend one of two schools closer to their home. She said it would cost her $50 a day to send her son to Moruga Composite and this was not possible.

“I simply cannot afford it and while he wants to go to school and he is a bright student he will have to stay home,” Singh said with tears in her eyes while her son hugged her.

She added that since her husband Kimchan Singh, 42, drowned at Moruga Beach on January 29, 2016, life has been difficult.

“Taking care of these children is very hard. I never believed this could have happened to us. We were a happy family and then one day we lost everything,” Singh said.

She explained that in the years before her husband’s death a broken water line had caused their sprawling concrete mansion to cave in. When the T&T Guardian visited yesterday, the remains of their once happy home stood lopsided in a precipice in front of the one-room plyboard house in which the family now lives.

Singh said she attends church and begs God to help her. She said several people have been assisting them and for this she was grateful. However, she called on the Ministry of Education to help her get a transfer for her son.

“I don’t want my child to get wayward. He needs to go to school. Education is the key to having a better life. I want my children to have a better life,” Singh said.

She added that her other children, eight, 10 and 15, are all set for school thanks to the help from citizens.

“A Good Samaritan bought all their books and I cut back on groceries and bought their uniforms. If my son gets through with a transfer, ... either one, I will have to see how we can raise money for his uniform and books,” she said.

Her home was immaculately clean and two beds stood in one room where they sleep.

Asked what she needed to make their lives better, Singh responded, “The house is very small and if we could have one more room, it would make us all more comfortable.”

Since August, Naparima MP Rodney Charles has written to the Minister of Education Anthony Garcia asking him to intervene on Darian’s behalf. Attempts made to contact Garcia for comment yesterday were unsuccessful as he did not answer his cellphone.

Anyone wanting to assist the family can contact Singh at 329 5265.

Editor’s note: The T&T Guardian is withholding the name of the teenager involved to prevent him from becoming a victim of possible stigmatisation and bullying when he eventually goes out to school.

Categories: News

Cops arrest three in Bon Air murders

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:03

Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith says he plans to continue dressing in operational wear for field operations. He made the comment yesterday during a visit to Bon Air Gardens, Arouca, where officers had hours earlier conducted several raids for suspects involved in a string of gang-related murders.

“I dress like my troops. What I wear is minor to how I perform. I would not have my troops do what I would not do myself, if my troops are in operation I would be with them,” Griffith told the media at the end of the 24-hour police exercise he named “Operation Strike Back”.

He said the operation became necessary as the community was living under siege following six murders 10 days in addition to other serious crimes, but admitted such exercises would not always be possible.

He said the officers had targeted the community after gaining intelligence. He said clinical policing based on this intelligence had assisted them in targeting certain individuals.

Noting that the 85-plus officers involved in the exercise also had support from the Air Division, he said, “We have been able to mobilise the asset and utilise resources of the Ministry of National Security so that the police can perform in an effective and efficient manner. This is not a case of taxpayers increasing their cost, what is increasing is professional policing in intelligence-driven operations. So this is an operation that was well orchestrated and we would have seen it by the 85-plus officers on the ground with logistic equipment.”

The exercise began around 10 pm on Saturday and ended on Sunday around 10 am.

Asked if he has any contingency plan in place for possible action by the unions in response to the Petrotrin restructuring, he said this should be addressed by the Minister of National Security.

Supt Mc Donald Jacob, of Northern Division, told T&T Guardian the operation resulted in the arrest of 24 people and the seizure of three firearms and 25 rounds of ammunition. Three of the arrested suspects were held in connection with the recent spate of murders.

Meanwhile, Arouca/Maloney MP Camille Robinson-Regis is linking the killings in the Bon Air district to the stalled construction of a community centre in the area.

In a statement yesterday, Robinson-Regis said after getting information she contacted Griffith for assistance for the community.

“I contacted the Commissioner of Police requesting the intervention of the police in the Bon Air Gardens area, where there has been an upsurge in criminal activity which seems to linked to the contact for the construction in the area of a much-needed community centre,” she said.

The Bon Air South Community Centre project which Robinson-Regis is referring to was pegged at $10.4 million and was expected to be handed over by August 2018. However, weeks before the building was completed the main contractor walked off the project because gangs in the area were demanding for protection money. A sub-contractor took over the project but was also forced to abandon it after he said a gun was pointed at him on the site and protection money was also demanded.

Robinson-Regis yesterday confirmed the job has still not yet been awarded to a new contractor but that the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCott) was working on selecting one.

With regards to the lockdown, Robinson-Regis also thanked Acting Commissioner of Police Jacobs for his assistance.

RALPH BANWARIE
 

Categories: News

We don’t want to own refinery

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 23:01

Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget is rejecting Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s offer of the sale of Petrotrin refinery to the union, as well as the attractive severance and early retirement packages for workers over 50 who will be affected by the impending shutdown.

In an immediate response to Rowley’s address to the nation last evening, Roget said the union felt “vindicated” by the PM’s words.

“We are vindicated because we knew that the plan was to sell the refinery,” Roget said.

However, he said the union never wanted to own the refinery.

“We are patriots and we know that the refinery belongs to the people. It does not belong in the hands of a private owner, even if that owner is the union,” he said.

The union, with support from almost 20 other trade unions, is expected to deliver a letter to Rowley today offering an alternative plan of action for the refinery.

In a television interview last evening as well, Roget also questioned some of the figures quoted by Rowley and promised that he will be challenging it in the upcoming days. He also said claims by Rowley that the union refused to meet with Government were untrue and insisted that there should be public consultations on Petrotrin’s future, specifically on the decision to shut down the refinery.

Also commenting last evening was former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine, who said he strongly believes nothing is wrong with considering a public-private partnership approach to the refinery going forward.

Saying the refinery remains a strategic asset, Ramnarine said a number of the plants that were built as part of the Gasoline Optimization Programme are still relatively new and were completed in 2013. He added that the Cat Cracker was upgraded and that work was completed in 2014 and certified by Lloyd’s, so Government could find a company willing to take over the refinery.

“I think it is possible to find reputable companies with the requisite capital and expertise who will be willing to partner with the Government to make the refinery viable,” Ramnarine said.

“Also, as I have indicated there will be an impact on the contractors and the energy service companies that depended on the expenditure of the refinery to support their business.”

Ramnarine speculated that more will be heard on the issue in the coming weeks and in the upcoming budget debate.

Categories: News

Cops search for vandals

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 22:59

Vandals smashed windows, destroyed drain pipes and threw rocks inside a centre housing Rousillac Hindu School pupils a day before the start of the new school term yesterday.

Cleaners who went to get the Rousillac Community Centre prepared for school were astonished to see boulders and rocks littering the yard where the children usually play. The vandals were unable to get into the compound because of the fence but councillor for the area Chandra Ramadharsingh said they wreaked havoc at the pavilion building next door.

When the T&T Guardian arrived yesterday, two windows of the pavilion building at the back were smashed. Water also sprayed from the broken pipes. Two tanks which were on stands stood empty as all the water leaked out. The front of the compound was drenched.

Ramadharsingh said the new pavilion conference building was opened a month ago and two days after the opening, vandals tried to take the toilet.

“This is so disappointing. We only now get the building and now we will have to see if we can set up surveillance cameras to prevent this from happening again,” Ramadharsingh said.

She said the school was now a target for criminals.

She added that they previously held meetings in the conference room of the pavilion previously but since the vandalism occurred people were now afraid to meet at that location.

Police said yesterday that they interviewed a suspect but had to release him as there was no evidence linking him to the crime. Officers said the suspect was also accused of vandalising a resident’s home.

The school was destroyed in a fire in 2012 and the students have been accommodated in the centre since then. The new school is 85 per cent completed and the contractor has said if the Government clears outstanding debts owed, the new school can be completed in six months.

Categories: News

Union to get takeover chance

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 22:58

The refinery at Petrotrin is for sale and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is offering the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union the first chance at acquiring it.

In an address to the nation last evening, Rowley reiterated much of what was already in the public domain since the meeting between the union and executives at Petrotrin last Tuesday, except for this new alternative to shutting down the refinery completely as part of the restructuring process.

Saying the refinery was 101 years old and had reached the end of its commercially viable days, Rowley said, “It is now at a stage where it is haemorrhaging cash and the cost of rehabilitating it is way more than its potential to ever be profitable, competitive or sustainable.

“The only commercially sound and viable option is to close the refinery; export Petrotrin’s oil which will be produced by an efficient and aggressive exploration programme and to import products to replace those previously supplied by the Point-a-Pierre refinery.”

He added: “This will move the company from a state of chronic money losing to one which will turn a tidy profit for the taxpayers. The refining assets of Petrotrin can now be put in a separate company for opportunity attention. The OWTU will be given the first option to own and operate it on the most favourable terms.”

Despite that offer, Rowley went on to make a case for the shutdown of the plants. He said the board was now developing a model for Petrotrin designed specifically “to manage its assets to yield the most value for Trinidad and Tobago”.

“The company will be better structured, with improved work processes and the capacity to reason quickly to changes in the international market,” Rowley said.

He said he had tried to meet and talk with OWTU president general Ancel Roget on three separate occasions but was blanked all three times

He said even before the new board was appointed in September 2017, he invited Roget to an informal meeting to discuss a way forward for Petrotrin but that invitation was declined. The second attempt at a meeting came when the PM invited labour to sit on the new board of Petrotrin but it was again declined. The third attempt by the Government to meet with the union to discuss Petrotrin’s plight came during the

‘Spotlight on the Energy Sector’ which the Government hosted at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain in March.

“Once again, the OWTU declined on the grounds that they were not invited,” Rowley said.

He said it was now duplicitous for any person to say that there was a lack of transparency in the decision to shut down the refinery.

“Now that the actual decisions have been taken in keeping with the recommendations and reviews, professional experts’ overviews and detailed analysis, it is disingenuous for any person, especially those involved, to plead lack of transparency and suddenness of Government action which should now be set aside in favour of “consultation” and “Parliamentary” discussion,” Rowley said.

He described such calls now as “self-serving”, “stalling tactics” and “political subterfuge”.

Early retirement incentive

Going forward, however, PM Rowley said the refinery workers could expect a hefty severance.

“In refining and marketing, approximately 1,700 permanent workers will be affected. In exploration and production, employment levels are to be reduced from 1,700 to approximately 800 persons,” he said of the numbers of workers involved.

However, he said workers over 50 years may be offered an “attractive early retirement package.

Roget had asked the PM to consider the negative impact a shutdown will have on neighbouring communities, but Rowley suggested Government would be able to handle some of the fallout.

“As the company now focuses on significant expansion of exploration and production activities, this will positively impact the communities of the southwestern peninsula,” Rowley said.

He said in the coming weeks, the Government planned to take part in two “significant industrial projects” in the southwestern peninsula.

“Increased drilling and production works, both on land and offshore, are to be expected in the new business model,” he said.

“There will be increased use of service contractors and suppliers and this should cushion the effects of loss of some opportunities at the refinery.”

Rowley also said the local economy consumes some 25,000 barrels of fuel a day and experts have found it more feasible to export the 40,000 barrels that are currently produced and instead import the fuel that is needed.

“The company will now focus on increasing the production of barrels of oil and each barrel will be sold externally on the open market,” he said.

This, he added, will improve the country’s earning potential.

He also listed bunkering of refined products as one of the potential earning avenues for the company.

In closing, Rowley called for understanding and commitment from those involved in Petrotrin.

“Unnecessary work stoppages and other contrived industrial actions are not in the nations best interest. This will only obstruct the already embattled company and delay this irreversible and unavoidable process,” Rowley said.

COMPANY A STRAIN ON THE ECONOMY

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is also blaming the shortfalls in various sectors on Petrotrin. He said national security, the health sector, social services, construction and the education sectors had suffered because funding went to keep Petrotrin operating instead.

“Other national priorities had to go to Petrotrin to keep it afloat,” Rowley said, adding that the shortage in funding was then reflected in gaps in healthcare staff, insufficient medicine in hospitals and reductions in CDAP.

With regards to the education sector, he said there were several schools where construction was stalled because of a lack of funding.

“Contractors who did development works for the State are owed hundreds of millions which we are struggling to pay so that children all over the nation can get their education in a safe and comfortable environment,” he said.

“There are urgent sustained priorities in National Security where we have had to ground four helicopters because we cannot afford to pay the millions to maintain them.”

He said despite this, the Minister of Finance had to “backstop huge losses at the refinery with little or no hope of recovery”.

Rowley said Petrotrin was losing money to the point where it could not comply with the law. He said the financial situation at Petrotrin was so dire it had become a ward of the Treasury instead of contributing to it.

“What this situation means is this, money that the company should turn over the Ministry of Finance is held within the company for its own use, illegal,” Rowley said.

“We are all paying to keep the bad situation going and we will all benefit when we fix it,” he said.

Categories: News

Mc Leod: It spells disaster

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:24

Former Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) leader Errol McLeod says the impending refinery shut down spells “disaster” for the country and his former trade union.

He is calling on the Government and its advisers to rethink the shut down especially in light of the recent ninth crude oil discovery in Guyana by Exxon Mobil.

“How would it serve the interest of the country to shut down the refinery at this stage?” McLeod asked in a telephone interview yesterday.

McLeod said that based on the Guyana oil find, by 2020/2021 the country will be producing high-quality crude oil.

“What is needed now is to modernize the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery so it has the capability to refine crude produced in Guyana. Now though, instead of moving forward or even staying stagnant, we are moving backward,” he said.

McLeod served as OWTU president general for 21 years before retiring in 2008 when current president general Ancel Roget took over the office. McLeod also served as Minister of Labour under the former

People’s Partnership government. Serving in both offices gave McLeod a unique view of the relationship between the union and the State.

“I will not compliment nor take away from what the current president general has done,” McLeod said.

“I would have done things differently.”

McLeod said both the politicians and the trade union seemed to have no vision where Petrotrin and the refinery is concerned.

“I would not have used the same tactics that he (Roget) is using,” McLeod said.

When asked for specifics, McLeod said that Roget allowed the trade unionists to speak out on an OWTU platform in a manner which “disrespected the institution” of the union.

“I saw on television that a farmer of goats spoke out against the Government in the most obscene, backward manner,” McLeod said. He was referring to the president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association, Shiraz Khan who was more vocal in his condemnation of the Government at Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) press conference last week.

“The OWTU should never be allowed to become so degenerate,” McLeod said.

Last Tuesday, the OWTU met with Petrotrin executives to discuss plans for the State company. The union was presented with three options but the company signaled that its intention was to shut down the refinery and send home some 1,700 workers. Since then the union has contended that it is the State’s intention to send home twice that amount from Petrotrin. This is the largest group of workers to be dismissed from any company.

Silence from Baptiste-Primus

The Sunday Guardian attempted to contact Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on this issue but she did not respond to calls or texts. (RS)

Categories: News

Ministry of Education to clapback at TTUTA

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:03

In response to TTUTA president Lynsley Doodhai’s call to teachers to boycott classes as a show of solidarity for the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Minister of Education Anthony Garcia says the matter was discussed at length at a Cabinet meeting last Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday at the Education Towers on St Vincent Street, Garcia said Cabinet had directed Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to research the laws and all other necessary bits of legislation relevant to public service.

They include the Education Act; Civil Service Act; Industrial Relations Act; Teaching Service Regulations Commission and the Public Service Commission Regulations that have been adopted full scale by the Teaching Service Commission.

“We have also been asked again to liaise with the Chief Personnel Officer, with respect to terms and conditions with service,” said Garcia.

He said in-house, the ministry had its own legal department from which it is currently receiving advice and that advice will be used together with the advice from the Attorney General to guide any course of action going forward.

“One of the things that came out of the discussion at the level of Cabinet is the fact that when TTUTA said publicly that they’re asking teachers to stay home as a mark of support to the OWTU, that can be construed as calling a ‘sympathy’ strike, which is another area that the Attorney General is looking at,” Garcia said.

He said he spoke with Al-Rawi yesterday morning and was assured that by tomorrow he would have in his hands the response to the request made by Cabinet.

‘PUT CHILDREN FIRST’

Weighing in on the matter, president of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) Raffiena Ali-Boodoosingh said children were already losing too much teaching time for several reasons and it works negatively for them.

“Yes, we know that teachers would want to be in solidarity with other workers but at the same time, we have to look at what signals we are sending to our children,” Ali-Boodoosingh said.

She said on one hand we are saying protesting is not always the right course of action and that useful dialogue and communication are better at coming to a consensus. On the other hand, however, children are witnessing leaders in the public eye doing differently.

“It is the first week of school, children are anxious to go to school. And come Friday, you are telling students don’t come to school, teachers are not coming to school.”

She said the theme of NPTA this year was titled Putting Children First: Save The Nation.

Categories: News

Roget kept in dark about Petrotrin closure—OWTU

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 23:31

President general of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget did not know that the Government planned to shut down Petrotrin. After successive meetings with the Petrotrin executive and then with the Prime Minister, the union claimed it was kept in the dark about the Government’s plan to close the refinery until the meeting on Tuesday.

In a statement to the media, the OWTU yesterday sought to “bring some clarity” to Energy Minister Franklin Khan’s statement that Roget had previous knowledge about the closure of the plant, but stopped short of calling Khan a liar.

Chief Education & Research Officer & Executive Trustee Ozzi Warwick said he was present at the meeting and at no time did Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley or anyone in his delegation say that the refinery would be shut down.

“Our notes will reflect that in the meeting, the Prime Minister lamented on the state of the refinery and that it was a major problem for Petrotrin and that Petrotrin should come out the refining business,” Warwick said.

Warwick said that Roget pressed Rowley to state exactly what that meant but the Prime Minister insisted that the union wait until the meeting with the board.

“However, up until that time, there was no communication between the board and the union and therefore there was no meeting scheduled,” Warwick said.

Warwick claimed Rowley even further stated that the options presented by the board had the sanction of the Government, but did not state what exactly were those options. He said it was those statements by the Prime Minister that led the OWTU to believe that the refinery was about to be sold.

“Immediately following the meeting when addressing the workers and the national community through the media, Comrade Roget stated what transpired and stated that based on the Prime Minister’s statement we were of the view that their plan will include the selling of the refinery. We stand by this statement!!” Warwick said.

He said since that meeting two weeks ago and the subsequent meeting with the company officials, Roget’s statements were widely covered and publicised.

“It was again reiterated that we believe that even after they shut down the refinery their plan is to sell its assets. His views have been widely reported and can be fact-checked. We also wish to highlight the fact that the statement made by the Minister of Trade, The Hon Paula Gopee-Scoon after the meeting with the Prime Minister never mentioned anything about shutting down the refinery,” Warwick said.

“It is also interesting to note that even after Roget made his public statements at end of the meeting with the Prime Minister and at the prayer session on the 26 August, no one from the government side refuted his statements. It is unacceptable that now that the Government is faced with a massive backlash and is clearly incapable of managing the situation that Minister Khan would seek to play wordsmith.

“The statements by the Minister of Energy is simply an attempt to shift focus away from the more fundamental questions. The fact remains that this Government’s decision, if allowed to go through, will throw away this country’s energy sovereignty in our 56th year of Independence, it will lead to the selling out of our national patrimony, throw thousands of families into turmoil, decimate communities in the South, and will ultimately crash our economy. The Government’s decision is tantamount to treason!!! We therefore again demand that the Government reverse this unpatriotic and catastrophic decision.”
See Page A23

Categories: News

Cheques for school caterers tomorrow

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 23:17

Funds will be made available tomorrow to caterers with the National School Dietary Services Limited (NSDSL).

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Lenor Baptiste-Simmons confirmed this yesterday at a press conference held by the Ministry of Education.

Baptiste-Simmons said the ministry made funds available on Friday and that cheques would be ready for caterers by tomorrow.

Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan said he had been in touch with the NSDSL CEO and arrangements have been made.

“In fact, I just got a message from her before the press conference where she asked me to flag the schools that would not be reopened so that adjustments could be made to the service. The funding for payments have been identified and we’re going to work that through, but in terms of the service, it will resume next week,” Seecharan assured.

In recent times, several caterers contracted under the NSDSL, to provide breakfast and lunch meals to students from the pre to secondary school levels across T&T, had stated that they might not have been able to continue operations in the term ahead.

In an interview with the Sunday Guardian, some even indicated up to last week that they had not yet received menu options from the NSDSL.

We were told some of the caterers received part payments at the end of June, but according to information received, the 75 caterers attached to the NSDSL were owed just under $100 million. A reliable source, over $15 million had already been paid out to caterers.

According to the NSDSL, caterers should be paid within a month of the invoice date for services rendered. However, some of them have complained about having to wait for more than a year for payment.

THE OPERATIONS

NSDSL officials estimated that $220 million is required to effectively continue operations per year.

The contractual agreement between Government and caterers stipulates that the providers supply a predetermined number of meals to schools within a specific zone.

A total of 83,000 lunches and 56,000 breakfast meals were provided during the 2017/2018 academic year. It has not yet been determined if this number will vary for the academic year 2018/2019.

Online research indicated that in 2014 the annual budget was just under $259 million while the 2015 school feeding budget was said to be slightly less at $250 million.

Officials confirmed that a breakfast meal cost $8 each, while lunches were $9.50 per meal.

Categories: News

Earthquake damage causes 4 schools to remain closed

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 23:13

Four primary schools will remain closed tomorrow, at the start of the new school term, mainly as a result of post-earthquake damage. They have been deemed unfit by the Ministry of Education through its structural engineers.

The schools are Curepe Anglican, Forest Reserve Anglican School, Santa Maria RC, and Dayanand Memorial Vedic School.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia made the announcement at a press conference at the ministry’s headquarters yesterday, where three pressing issues were addressed—infrastructure and readiness pertaining to schools, stipend negotiation for principals of private secondary schools, and TTUTA’s call for a solidarity boycott on Friday.

The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday. Garcia assured everything was being done to get these schools reopened in a timely manner.

Garcia said following the 6.9 earthquake on August 21, 66 schools were flagged for attention as they sustained various degrees of damage.

He said the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Works and Transport were able to begin structural assessments of these school within two days of the earthquake to ascertain the damage and to get a comprehensive report on areas of repairs.

Other schools listed are St Benedict’s College, Holy Faith Convent Penal, Holy Name Convent, Diego Martin North Secondary School, and Diego Martin Girls’ RC.

Garcia said St Paul’s Anglican School will also remain closed after officials of the City of San Fernando Corporation stated it was unfit for students to return to the building tomorrow.

Other schools awaiting assessments include Nipal Presbyterian, Pt Cumana Government Primary School, and St Phillip’s Government Primary. Garcia said after some cracks were discovered in the latter school, the ministry advised the school be closed until further assessment.

La Romaine Secondary School will also remain closed, but it is due to electrical work being completed.

“I want to be honest and make the point that delay is not because of the earthquake. That school must have its entire electricity fittings looked at so that there would be no recurrence of a fire that happened some time in late May,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the ministry was also observing schools particularly in the Central area as there were possibilities they could have structural damage to the sewer systems.

Asked what would be the interim accommodation for students, Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan said they have already identified some options to move forward. He said the relocation of students involves the process of all stakeholders who must give the necessary approval.

“For a number of these cases which warrant relocation of students to other venues, that has kicked in already. I suppose by the middle of the week some definite positions would be made,” said Seecharan.

Categories: News

New offer on the table for private schools ...$4,000 per student

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 23:12

The Ministry of Education is prepared to increase its offer by $400 for students placed in private secondary schools, taking the figure to $4,000 per student.

The former offer made by the ministry was $2,400, moving the current $1,200 to $3,600. However, the Association of Principals of Private Secondary Schools turned down the offer on August 23.

In a previous interview association spokesman Anthony Mc Colin had told Guardian Media, the new proposed $3,600 per student per term was “unacceptable”, because the schools are in debt and the religious organisations and private individuals who have been assisting financially just “cannot afford to carry the burden any more”.

Yesterday, Education Minister Anthony Garcia said Cabinet on Thursday considered the report of the committee that was appointed to negotiate with the principals of the private secondary schools and decided to “up” the offer.

“As you would be aware, the committee met with representatives of the principals of the private secondary schools and the sum of $3,600 was offered. We understand that the offer was not accepted. In fact, it was brought to our understanding that they wrote to the Minister of Finance rejecting the offer,” said Garcia.

He said Cabinet debated the matter and came to the decision that they would up the offer by $400, which would make it $4,000 per child per term, and this would be for a period of four years.
“We are hoping the matter could come to an end with this decision,” said Garcia. See Page A11

Categories: News

...Public systems ready to handle the unemployed?

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 22:54

Are public education, health, and other systems ready to handle increased demand which will follow the sacking of Petrotrin workers?

“Unemployed people have no choice but to use public systems more,” said employee Chankar Teelucksingh.

Cries from Petrotrin workers inside the company rang out last week and tears from families flowed like water when the closure news hit—among them, Teelucksingh’s family.

“When I told my wife and two children that I didn’t know if I will have a job, everybody just broke down—the hardest thing I ever had to do,” said Teelucksingh, who has been with Petrotrin for 33 years since age 18. He has been a permanent worker for 28 years and casual worker for five.

While he’s attached to Trinmar, Teelucksingh said the way the word came out, it appears all areas will be affected in some way by the refinery closure. “We’re in the dark, doubt and fear on the true extent of changes especially where Trinmar and Santa Flora fields are concerned.”

Teelucksingh is worried about meeting his daughter’s university fees and his son’s school needs. “I have a mortgage, a car loan, and my mother to support. People say re-train or ‘re-tool’ to get work. At my age, I can’t get GATE help to try to get an education to change my field since GATE now has age restrictions on applicants. How is the education system going to help/adjust to meet people’s needs to retrain?

“Can the public health system, especially in South, handle the needs of all these people—2,700 workers plus their families and others affected—it now has to handle all at once?”

Teelucksingh was also concerned whether the State’s struggling National Insurance system will be able to cope without the contributions from axed workers and those who will have to be paid NIS benefits. “I saw the effect when Trintoc was closed in Point Fortin—a ghost town. What will become of the South now?”

Workers must plan
ASAP—Enill

Former PNM energy minister and minister in the ministry of finance Conrad Enill—now a business consultant—said “If Government could have rescinded the closure decision, it wouldn’t have made it in the first place. At this point, focus by those affected must be on action: that they get the best package, training/re-tooling for transition, calculating financial obligations, interacting with credit unions, restructuring loans, budgeting more effectively for the next six to eight months.

“They would be skilled people but may get work in other areas or even in the same. What may not be available to them is the same revenue stream they got so adjustments and planning for what’s ahead are absolutely necessary.”

Enill said Petrotrin had a significant bond payment coming up and if that couldn’t be met, T&T would be put at risk regarding its rating. “Nobody will lend you money, cost of financing would increase, and faith in T&T would be shaken.”

“When former late prime minister Patrick Manning called the election in 2010, some 12,000 people—employed as advisers and other posts—lost jobs the same way Petrotrin’s 1,700 will. “This is a risk taken in employment.

Categories: News

OWTU wants PM to hold his hand on Petrotrin, offers alternative plan

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 22:52

Hold your hand—the OWTU (Oilfield Workers Trade Union) has an alternative plan.

That’s the 11th-hour call to Government from the OWTU regarding Government’s decision to close Petrotrin’s refinery.

OWTU, which has been holding meetings with workers and other agencies over last Friday and yesterday, made its call on the eve of Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s address to the nation tonight on the Petrotrin issue.

Petrotrin’s Board last week announced closure plans. Some 2,700 workers are at issue in the matter though Petrotrin indicated 1,000 can reapply to be rehired. However, 1,700 will be “axed”. Energy Minister Franklin Khan estimates workers’ termination benefits would cost “significantly more” than $1 billion. Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet said Petrotrin will foot the bill and will have to find the money.

Finance Ministry officials explained to the Guardian that the refinery costs the State over $2b annually and if that cost was removed, Petrotrin will be able to raise financing—by borrowing—to meet workers’ settlement. They said borrowing would be the only way to handle it.

OWTU’s’ Chief Education/Research officer Ozzie Warwick—replying to the Guardian’s questions yesterday—said the union received no information on which workers will form part of the 1,700 “to go”, who may get the early retirement/full pension plan being proposed by Government or further details.

Despite Government reaching as far as estimating the size of termination benefits, Warwick said “We’re not giving up, we still hold hope this decision can be changed. We’ve told workers this refinery closure isn’t the only choice Government has. There are other options. We have a strategic document to show what other options exist and T&T won’t have to lose energy sovereignty to external, foreign sources to supply fuel needs as Government plans—that will only increase fuel prices and the cost of living overall.”Warwick said OWTU’s plan was based on some of its recommendations to the Selwyn Lashley team which

reviewed Petrotrin’s operation in 2017. After that team’s report, however, Petrotrin’s Board was mandated in December 2017 to present to Cabinet a restructuring plan. Warwick maintained OWTU wasn’t told of refinery-closure plans.

Warwick said, “Our plan focused in detail on increased productivity, accountability, and achieving production targets, with employees taking full responsibility for performance. We examined Petrotrin as a whole. It couldn’t be viable and profitable in the current structure as you don’t run an integrated company with one management.

“Our focus was major restructuring into three business units of a new governance model—Refining/Marketing, with its own management; Land/other business units with Trinmar; and separation of the hospital into an entity to be run by a medical board.”

Plans also address quick-win projects yielding an additional 2,000 barrels of oil daily and multiple other initiatives in land and offshore areas. Increasing refinery efficiencies and reviewing whom T&T imports crude from is among aspects.

Warwick noted the Lashley team agreed with the union’s recommendations. “It’s strange it didn’t recommend closing the refinery. But our plan will ensure Petrotrin’s survivability. It’ll be fine-tuned this week.”

Potentially affected—welders to shipping workers

Warwick said “If this closure is forced by the fact that Government has to pay US loans for Petrotrin from next year, how can they find billions to pay off workers, yet can’t get the same money to pay the loans?

“The public also needs to know what will be done with the billions of dollars worth of refinery assets if it closes. It can’t sit there as these assets depreciate quickly if unused. Will assets be sold? Is the fact that some business groups agree with the closure, indication the private sector has a role to play later?”

OWTU figures indicate the refinery has 23 plants with 2,200 permanent workers plus 800 casual/temporary workers.

The figures include 300 operators, 150 maintenance workers, plus shop area craftsmen, welders, electrical and mechanical workers, pump operators, electrical instrument operators, oil stock workers, marine/shipping workers.

Warwick admitting OWTU will be affected by the closure, said it was a form of “union busting”.

OWTU is holding a meeting with workers on Monday evening.

Categories: News

T&T Guardian turns 101 today

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 22:50

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the T&T Guardian. The Grand Old Lady of St Vincent Street has an illustrious past with much to celebrate and a bright future to look forward to in the digital age.

Tomorrow Guardian Media will be relaunching its website and digital Guardian app.

Its founders were also hopeful and confident in a brave new world and future launching a fledgling newspaper amidst the turmoil of the First World War. The time had come for citizens to read about themselves in a local newspaper when independence was not yet even a nascent dream.

The T&T Guardian had its share of triumphs, trials, and adversities bringing the news to citizens on the many major and historic moments in the country.

The T&T Guardian covered the nation’s independence in 1962, it rose phoenix-like from the ashes of the devastating fire that destroyed its St Vincent Street home in 1980, thanks to the determined efforts of its loyal staff and the support of its faithful readers.

When poet and playwright Derek Walcott passed away on March 17, 2017, I had to source the newspaper’s archives on the Nobel Laureate from the National Archives of T&T and Nalis (The National Library and Information System Authority).

T&T Guardian reporters, staff, and editors produced stories from ground zero of the July 27, 1990 coup, slept under metal desks at the newspaper and ate corned beef, while bullets ricocheted off the building.

The face of the paper began to change also with the times. From the expats of the 50 and 60s such as English editors Jack Barker and George Jenkins, the paper later transitioned to local editors such as Lenn

Chong Sing and manager Aldwyn Chow. Back then, journalists wore suits, banged out their stories on manual typewriters which have been replaced by computers, and photographers used film cameras instead of digital cameras. Associated Press wirephotos from the 30s have been replaced with digital transmission and the bulky cassette recorders have given way to digital recorders that reporters now carry.

The T&T Guardian has always been at the forefront of technology to give its readers the latest news ‘the fastest with the mostest.’

T&T Guardian’s Production Supervisor Rawle Sobers who has 35 years experience in the press room said the paper had kept pace with the state-of-the-art print technology and employs a Computer-to-plate (CTP) printing system which has led to reduced pre-press times and improved print quality over the mechanic Goss printing press and Linotype machine of the past.

As the T&T Guardian enters the digital age and new social media platforms; technology and trends will change, but the newspaper’s strengths will always be its loyal family of employees and readers for the next century to come.

GUARDIAN GETS TO THE POINT WITH WEBSITE—CLEAN, SIMPLE, EASY-TO-READ DESIGN

Guardian Media Limited’s managing director Nicholas Sabga said tomorrow Guardian Media will be relaunching the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Website and Digital Guardian App.

“These relaunches are the perfect celebration of our 101st anniversary, which comes a day earlier. For 101 years we’ve brought you the newspaper you’ve come to know and love, but this year we’ve embarked on a mission to do even better,” he said.

“Our new website boasts of a clean, simple, easy-to-read design that complements our recently redesigned paper. Our new web pages are fully responsive for seamless, immersive viewing on your desktop, mobile or tablet.”

He said images and headlines were easy on the eyes and at a glance, the reader can keep up with all the latest Business, Life, Sport, and Opinion news.

They can also access weather updates, exchange rates or listen to any of the group’s seven radio stations on the new website.

Sabga said the redesigned Guardian App will be available for download on both Android and iOS devices tomorrow.

He said if readers already had the app installed, they simply needed to update in their App Store or Google Play Store.

Sabga said features such as clipping, downloading for offline reading, printing, bookmarking, and sharing were now easier than ever.

He said readers can share their favourite articles or pages with friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Google+, and even Pinterest.

Sabga said for desktop users, the all-new reader carries the built-in ability to read articles aloud to the user.

He said features like these and more have been perfected for all ages and were sought through the desire to provide our readers with the best user experience possible.

“Getting to the point had never looked better,” Sabga said. “We’ve redesigned with you in mind. Head over to www.guardian.co.tt tomorrow to see what’s new, and download the Trinidad Guardian in the App Store and Google play store to take us with you wherever you go.”

Categories: News

Galleons Passage makes Tobago run in 4.5 hours

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 22:46

The trial run of the Galleons Passage between Trinidad and Tobago was a success according to the National Infrastructure and Development Company (Nidco).

The inter-island ferry took four and a half hours to make the trip and spent some time at the docks in Scarborough before returning to Trinidad.

Social media was rife with comments and pictures of the ferry unable to connect with the ramp in Tobago and by 2 pm yesterday, the Ministry of Works and Transport tweeted that the crew was “currently in the process of exploring docking options and analysing all required logistics needed for a seamless operation when the vessel is commissioned into service”.

An hour later, Nidco sent a statement praising the run and saying that its objective was to determine the “duration of the journey” to Tobago.

“That is speeds, the overall quality of on-board experience, and to check some passenger safety features,” the release said.

“We also sought to determine the more suitable berthing option, since the vessel is equipped with both bow and stern ramps.”

The Nidco said that based on the trial run, the Galleons Passage will use its stern ramp in both islands.

The company also described all other checks as “highly successful”.

In a subsequent interview, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan reiterated that yesterday’s trial run was not about whether the ferry could berth in Tobago.

“We always knew that the ramp on the bow was going to be a challenge and they were just testing that today (yesterday),” Sinanan said. He said all of the previous ferries berthed by the stern and not the bow and the Galleons Passage was no different.

He said United National Congress (UNC) activist Devant Maharaj was busy on social media spreading rumours about the boat.

“Today was not about docking, it was about speed and safety,” he said. Kamla: It’s a piece of junk

But, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday described the Galleon’s Passage as a piece of junk.
Speaking to reporters at her constituency office yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said the boat was of no use to the people of T&T.

Asked to comment on a report that the exit ramp on the boat was some 20 feet off the ground, so vehicles could not exit the ferry, Persad-Bissessar said, “People were anxious and excited to get a connection with the sea bridge but the boat cannot dock. Once again this shows the competence and mismanagement of the Rowley government and we are once again left without a sea bridge.

“We bought a boat that is junk and scrap iron. How could they buy a new boat and have it parked up at Staubles Bay? Now that it actually attempting to float it cannot dock.”

—with reporting by
Radhica Sookraj

Categories: News

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