Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Photo/TT Parliament
By Sue-Ann Wayow
THE Government’s intention is not only to sell the refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre but all the assets owned by Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited, valued at over $1 billion US.
And that price tag the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) could not afford to pay and therefore the decision can now be made to give another company the right to purchase.
This is the claim made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who reiterated her statements that the OWTU and the people of Trinidad and Tobago were deceived into believing that the sale of the former state owned company could remain in local hands.
Persad-Bissessar, speaking at a virtual United National Congress (UNC) meeting on Monday, produced several documents and newspaper articles to support her claim detailing the history of the refinery and Petrotrin since its closure in 2018.
Pointing out five main issues in the failed agreement with OWTU, Persad-Biessar emphasised that no state asset should be sold without the enforcement of procurement legislation to protect against shady acquisitions.
And the main question she wants the government to answer is, “What is the value of the Paria assets?”
She said, “When Petrotrin shutdown, the assets of the refinery were placed in Guaracara, terminal assets were placed in Paria Fuel Trading. So what this is now revealing to us is that the proposal was not just to sell the refinery but also to sell the terminal in the Paria Trading.
“That includes the tank farm, the habours, the docks, the berths, piping, pipelines and all the machinery and equipment, buildings, roads and drains and relevant real estate.
“This is a sizeable asset of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. The government indicated that the refinery was up for sale but made no mention that Paria was also up for sale.
The prime minister and the minister of energy on several occasions denied that Paria was for sale so here we are now, another lie being exposed.”
The sale of Paria Trading Fuel Trading which was not initially included in the proposal by the OWTU was now being included with a lower price suggestion, Persad-Bissessar said according to the document she had in hand adding that OWTU made an amendment to the initial proposal by including a proposed sale of the assets owned by Paria Trading Fuel Company Ltd.
She said, “I now have a document in my hand, with the Patriotic’s letterhead dated 29th October, 2020. It is now discovered from this document that Patriotic has now offered an upfront payment of $500 million for the assets, $200 million less.
“Based on the same documents we found, they now want to pay, US $526 million for the refinery, they will pay $500 million in advance, but they want the government to foot the bills for their fees and charges, in the sum of US $26 million US…
“Paria is now included in the sale. What is the value of the Paria assets? If it is you are offering for the refinery that price, how come you are offering a lower price for both the refinery and for Paria? How much are they willing to pay for these billion dollar assets?”
She claims the OWTU offered US$1 billion for the refinery, with $500 million dollar loan request from RBC Royal Bank and the other $500 million from Trafigura Group Pte Ltd, a troubled foreign company.
“What interest does Trafigura has in Paria?” she asked.
Also producing a document which she said was a charge on assets statement, Persad-Bissessar claimed that the assets of the dismantled Petrotrin company were currently mortgaged by the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation to the value of US$1.173 billion adding that the assets cannot be sold without the mortgagee’s consent and she questioned who was going to clear the mortgage before the sale could be conducted.
“I want to ask the government now, are they prepared to sell the refinery and Paria while the assets of those are currently mortgaged in the bank of New York Mellon?” she asked.
Energy Minister 2019 Statement
On the government’s website following newspaper reports in 2019, a statement made by Energy Minister Franklin Khan was posted.
It stated, “For the record, the Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited is a strategic state asset that plays a very important role in ensuring the security of supply of liquid petroleum fuels for the transportation sector of Trinidad and Tobago and for the general public.
“The company is also invested with the ownership of strategic assets such tank farms, port infrastructure and real estate which were previously owned by the predecessor company Petrotrin. As Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, I wish to make it clear that the divestment of Paria Fuel Trading Company is not within the current mandate given by the Government to Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited.”
He continued, “Accordingly, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited has been directed to withdraw and retract any advertisement or Request for Proposals that may have been inadvertently issued for the sale of the Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited.
“The public is assured that the Government and the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries will continue to maintain oversight of the restructuring of Petrotrin and its transformation into viable, efficient and profitable companies, in order to ensure that all decisions taken in the energy sector and all associated subsectors are in the best interest of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”