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.