Why not the OWTU?

By Raffique Shah
October 02, 2019

Raffique ShahThe outrage that erupted when Government announced its decision to name the Oilfields Workers Trade Union’s company, Patriotic Energies and Technologies Ltd, as the preferred bidder for the oil refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre (Guaracara Refining Co), you’d swear all Cabinet ministers and the OWTU’s president Ancel Roget and his entire executive are guilty of high treason, and deserve to be hauled into Woodford Square and shot to death with goat-pills.

My understanding is that the two parties have yet to meet and discuss the terms of agreement (or disagreement), although some broad outlines have been revealed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert. He said, inter alia, that of the three bidders who were recommended to Cabinet by an independent committee, only Patriotic, which is offering US $700 million for the refinery, was prepared to pay an undisclosed sum up front.

If I have a problem with the process thus far, it is to ask the Minister why he declined the “down payment”, and proposes instead to offer Patriotic a three-year moratorium on all payments, to be followed by a ten-year repayment period? If I were in his seat, I’d demand US $70 million up front, because, as late Tunapuna businessman Max Senhouse used to say, “We needs de money!”

But returning to the expressions of outrage over the choice of Patriotic/OWTU over an initial 77 corporations expressing interest in the refinery (according to Imbert, late last year), from the Chamber of Commerce to politicians obscure and high-profiled, commentators of every hue and persuasion, economists, energy experts and sundry malcontents, they screamed, almost in unison: why the OWTU?

In other words, trade unions have no right to engage in business, and least of all in an enterprise as huge as that oil refinery.

Mark you, not one of the critics entered the bidding process in their own right as entrepreneurs or professionals or on behalf of venture capitalists. It’s a crying shame that in a country as industrialised as Trinidad and Tobago, not one of our conglomerates entered the fray. The self-promoting dissenters could not put together venture capital to show that they could shake a leg, far less walk the talk.

It is at a time like this that I think of that much-maligned corporate adventurer, Lawrence Duprey. He may have had more than a few tricks up his sleeve, but he was a daring investor.

Look, I agree with the chorus of calls for transparency in any-and-everything to do with the assets of what was Petrotrin, be it the refinery, the oil wells or its vast landholdings. But sitting and griping over lost oil or stolen petro-dollars or the TT $15 billion debt incurred through a combination of political interference, gross mismanagement, poor work ethic or naked looting of the one-time oil giant will get us nowhere.

We have to reopen that refinery, put our money (for those who have it) or our experienced hands, our expertise, where our mouths are. After waging a bitter war with the Rowley government over its decision to shut down Petrotrin in 2018, the OWTU has clearly decided to be part of the reincarnation process rather than the graveside service.

The critics ask what the hell does the union, which comprises largely ex-oil workers, know about running the refinery? I ask them: who the hell ran the refinery before its closure? Not the said workers, their supervisors, the technicians, the managers?

So they made many mistakes, or simply took it for granted that the petro-goose would forever lay golden eggs. Well, they learned the hard way it could not. Now they are seizing an opportunity to redeem themselves and restore self-confidence as one of the oldest oil-producing nations in the world.

We should encourage, not castigate them.

Hell, who runs the however many petrochemical plants on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate? Nationals of this country, almost to a man—and woman. In contrast with relatively new technology at these plants, the refinery, even with upgraded components, is hardly a challenge for our technocrats and skilled labourers.

Of course the Cabinet’s decision was likely influenced by the politics of the day-and maybe next year’s general election. Making peace with the OWTU could restore the PNM’s standing in what can be described as the oil-belt constituencies in South and South-West Trinidad. Such politicking is not alien to our culture. Any party in power, given similar circumstances, would have acted likewise unless it harboured a pathological hatred for trade unions, or more specifically the OWTU and its leader, Roget.

The Keith Rowley Government, having shut down the State-owned oil company late last year, did indicate that it would seek to resuscitate its three subsidiaries, namely exploration and production (Heritage Petroleum), refining (Guaracara), and trading in fuels (Paria). Heritage continued operations almost without pause, Paria kicked off smoothly, with no disruptions in the supply of any fuel, and the new parent company, Trinidad Petroleum Holding, almost immediately invited expressions of interest in the refinery.

From early o’clock, having lost the battle to prevent the closure of Petrotrin, the OWTU signalled its intention to seek to acquire and operate the refinery. Its proposal will have been in the hands of the holding company before any other. There is no guarantee that they will make the refinery a profitable enterprise for all stakeholders.

So what if they fail? The international oil majors have failed in certain projects, as have governments. It’s a risk they and their partners, who should be thoroughly scrutinised by the Financial Intelligence Unit, are eager to take.

The nation should support the union’s Patriotic bid, not sabotage it as so many seem to be doing.

Shame on them.

7 thoughts on “Why not the OWTU?”

  1. One could not expect a better patriotic commentary than the one offered by Raffique Shah. There is not one iota of bias in his commentary and I applaud him for that. To be truthful, my first reaction to the award was “WHAT!!!!! why the OWTU!!”. But that was my conscience dealing with the reality of our history. As I read further on how that decision came into being, I realize that the decision to offer the OWTU to run our refinery was a thoughtful and genuine one.

    As for the critics? Well, lets just say they have a constitutional right to their opinions ……. and just that.
    In my opinion this country have only one family who are/were true entrepreneurs and that is the DuPrey family, both Cyril and Lawrence. They started with nothing and built a conglomorate.
    Most of our billionaires in this country depend on our national budget to plan their existence. With all the billions that they eek out of our pockets, how many of them reinvest in the infrastructure of our country to further develop our national standards? NOT ONE!!!

    As for the politics and the politicians who are criticizing this move, I don’t see any of them with objective political motives. Most of them believe that being in power means having the ability to access the treasury to do as they please. Furthermore, whatever happened to “the spirit of unity” that led to the ‘Fyzabad Accord’? I remember that is what led us to the ‘People’s Partnership’. I remember the OWTU being one of the biggest contributors to the ‘People’s Partnership’ in its formation but as soon as power was attained Sat Maharaj became a bigger beneficiary than the other players in the accord.

    So, are those now opposing and questioning the decision, happy that their ‘comrade’ (the OWTU) got the award? Seems to me, what they are saying is that the OWTU was good enough to be their JUNIOR partners BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH to be a player in the national infrastructure of developing this country. Maybe as busy as Roget finds himself, he should also take time to reflect on how those with whom he ‘lay in bed’ might be his greatest enemies.

  2. Dear Lieutenant, the OWTU is a front organization, the real controllers are a foreign entity that is bankrolling the whole project. OWTU does not have a black cent to run anything. Their controllers will be meeting with Imbert to discuss not paying a cent for the next three years. These are the type of sweet heart deal that Dr. Rowley will pronounce upon the nation “he eh know nutting about it”. We have seen this type of I don’t know anything when it came to that HDC contract with his Chinese friends.

    The pan African nationalist movement, is clueless when it comes to ruling this nation. They closed Caroni gave away millions of rumstock to Angustura and they sold it to the Italians. Whose pocket did that money go into? Then they buying sugar from abroad. The closed Petrotrin, Espinet was one of the directors in the new company, he full his pocket then they “fire” him. Imagine getting fired from your own company. The comedy of errors continues as backroom deals emerge outside of the public view. The best was Rowley hiring his own lawyer to ruin opps run the company. This after it was discovered there is a bank in Miami with a middle man laundering money into a bank in Ghana. If it was the UNC the police would have already sent officers abroad and they would have returned with piles of documents seeking to arrest all and sundry.

    The guiding philosophy of the PNM has always been what they can’t control they destroy. As One minister said we arrogant in power and we arrogant outside power. Don’t expect things to get better under this current regime. And don’t be surprised if the financiers back out of this deal and leave mannequin man naked and alone. Until then don’t complain about the price of cooking gas. It is the cheapest in the Caribbean according to guy smiley.

    1. Agree on these points. Close down the Railway, Gas station Racket (Death of Gene Miles), Close down Caroni, the richest company in the country (75,000 acres of land, millions of dollars in rum stocks, citrus groves, animal farms etc) These are the successes of this government.

  3. Raffique Shah has ranted and raved over the years about corruption, mismanagement and the appointments of political hacks to run state enterprises.
    Petrotrin has experienced a series of failures led ny PNM henchmen over the years, ending with its massive debt and eventual closure.
    This latest frivolous venture by the PNM to offer up the refinery to the OWT is an exercise in political deception and survival.
    Why would anyone think the it’s going to be different this time?
    Once again Shah, the eternal PNM apologist, now writes an article to pamper his union brothers and at the same time appease his PNM friends.

  4. Lt Raffique Shah. Your rant was not well thought out. I had always showed keen interest in your writings but this is one of your worst articles. You have taken a union slant to this decision to buy the government. First of all when a proposal is put forward to buy a business the purchaser must show that they have the technical expertise, experience, tack record in this field, a track record of fiscal management, and financing available to run the business ie working capital. The OWTU does not have of these requirements. They only qualify because they have the ability to oppose the government and elections. The Minister of Finance proudly started his announcement by stating that the OWTU (PECTL) has offered an “upfront cash offer of US$700” and then at the end he said the cabinet has decided to a moratorium of 3 years interest only and 10 years to pay of the purchase price. This is a contradiction. Anyone with a bit of commonsense knows that the Minister of Finance tried to hoodwink the population of TT. As for the patriotic stance, it is a fools dream. Locals have not had the financial, managerial experience, etc to successfully manage a company of this complexity. You must be reminded that the OWTU was one party which was involved in the bankruptcy of Petrotrin with is unreasonable demands and unreasonable backing of bad employees. We do not want a situation where the people of TT have to take back the refinery when PECTL fails. On the face of it one would say that the offer was not “bankable”. Take your platform and go! Write Texaco on a Football and kick it around. These are the success of the OWTU.

  5. One of my competitors on this board calls me “a dinosaur” when my thinking runs contrary (and most times ahead) to his thinking, because you cannot always look at the “problems” with a narrow point of view. I have been absorbing most of the criticisms leveled at the OWTU’s potential to run the refinery and while some of it is objective, many have tints of jealousy, bias, old fashioned hatred and historical hatred. Many noted the failures of the government in past reconstructive changes but also fail to mention its successes. Its all because we expect and demand quick fixes to our problems without regards to the constructs of overcoming them.

    I share the view that the OWTU has been a thorn at the side of our developments in the past but they have also been the historical leader in making the workplace more amenable for the working class of this country. When TEXACO, SHELL and BP left Trinidad, they all thought that our future was doomed because the locals were too dumb to run the oilfields. Well, the locals did not fail. In business some failures MUST occur. But generally speaking the ‘locals’ replaced the expatriates with flying colors. There are Trinidadians working in the oil industry holding high technical positions all over the world because of the knowledge they gained by the decisions of multinationals lo leave our oil industry to us. There are Trinidadian oil experts working in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Ghana, Australia, the U.S and even New Guinea. I happen to have a nephew working in one of those far away places. We are capable (the OWTU included) when we put our minds to it.

    Most of our failures arise from management of our resources, not the technical knowledge. When greed and complacency steps in failure becomes an inevitable outcome. Petrotrin failed when the salaries of executives became more important than how much oil we can produce in a given day. It failed when people were hired based not on expertise but how many friends could offer them a position. It failed because executives did not have the national interests at heart. Many of us jump on the ‘Trinidad Ship’ only when it is in our interest to do so. To many, being Trinidadian is not inclusive but selective based on criteria that suits their own kith.

    Mr. Shah may not be a millennial but his thoughts on this issue happens to be progressive, thoughtful, reasonable and most of all hopeful. Too many people have lost hope because of the nature of our politics, that is so heavily racially tinted but there will always be those who have the nation’s interest at heart and willing to give ‘positivity’ a try. In that same vein, I say “so what” if the OWTU fail, it is in the nature of business to have failures but they can’t succeed if they don’t try.

  6. ‘Most of our failures arise from management of our resources, not the technical knowledge’.

    I believed you answered ‘Observer’ concern as enumerated above.

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