Newman George: UNC wrong on cost of refinery mothballing

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Guaracara Refining Company (GRC) chairman Newman George.

NEWMAN GEORGE, Guaracara Refining Company (GRC) chairman, on Sunday, stood by his recent statement that the cost to preserve the mothballed refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre was $500,000 per month, as denoted in TT currency, not in US dollars. He confirmed this when Newsday called to get his response to Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee claiming at a UNC briefing on Sunday morning that the sum was US$500,000 per month. Lee said the refinery was shut on November 30, 2018.

On April 17, George had disclosed the $500,000 sum in reply to a question from Mayaro MP Rushton Paray at a Public Accounts Enterprise Committee (PAEC) sitting. On that occasion last week, Paray had pressed him as to whether it was TT or US dollars, to which George had replied, “I speak in TT (dollars).”

On Sunday, Lee queried George based on a document someone had given him.

“We have some conflicting information which I received this morning.”

He said the Opposition had filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) last July 17 and got the reply last October 6.

Lee said the FOIA reply to the first query said Damus Ltd was contracted to preserve the refinery.

He said a reply to a second FOIA query said the cost of the preservation exercise from December 1, 2018, to June 30, 2023, was $34,628,161 (about $34 million.)

Lee calculated the cost to present would be almost $40 million (based on adding on George’s figure of $500,000 per month over ten months.)

“What is interesting, ladies and gentlemen, is that this morning somebody waited for me outside on the highway to give me some information about that cost of the refinery.”

Lee said he was handed a confidential legal notice dated March 20, 2024, from Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd on the refinery preservation.

He said the document listed surveillance, operations, security, nitrogen blanketing, process and utility equipment maintenance, refinery assets and environmental monitoring.

“You know what is the expenditure they put monthly for the preservation of this refinery? There’s a figure here: Preservation expenditure. Five hundred thousand US dollars a month (US$500,000)! US dollars a month!

“So I am asking the question here this morning: Who do we believe?”

He asked if to believe the FOIA reply ($34 million over four years plus), George’s statement to the parliamentary committee ($500,000 per month), or the document he had been handed (US$0.5 million per month.)

“We are asking the Minister of Energy to clarify. The Maths not mathsing.”

Newsday later called George.

He said, “It is approximately $500,000 per month. It could go to $475,000; it could go to $545,000.”

Newsday said Lee was suggesting the denomination was US dollars. George replied, “TT dollars.”

Newsday said Lee claimed to have a document stating it to be US dollars. George said, “Mr Lee is wrong. We have a contract with Damus Ltd for the preservation of the refinery.

“Don’t take my word for it. Call Damus.

“We pay Damus in TT dollars. Every month, the bank would call and I would verify payment.”

Lee queried the whereabouts of any final report on the evaluation of a past bid to buy the refinery by the OWTU-run Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd. Newsday tried but was unable to contact any evaluation committee member nor OWTU head Ancel Roget.