PM hits back at OWTU’s accusation of extreme bias in refinery bid process

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

OWTU president general Ancel Roget, centre, addresses the media at OWTU headquarters, San Fernando, on June 25. – Angelo Marcelle

THE Prime Minister has hit back at accusations of “extreme bias” from the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), for having met with an Indian businessman on the proposed purchase of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, after the date for submission of bids was closed on May 10.

“Mr Roget is braying when what he should be doing is barking up the right tree,” Dr Rowley said in a WhatsApp response to the Newsday on June 25 to statements made by OWTU’s president general Ancel Roget at a news briefing at Paramount Building on the same day.

The OWTU through its fully owned subsidiary Patriotic Energies and Technologies Co Ltd (Patriotic) is one of eight entities which have submitted proposals for the restart of the refinery which has been mothballed since November 2018.

Government originally declared Patriotic the preferred bidder for the operation of the refinery, but Rowley said it failed on every occasion to satisfy the evaluators.

“We gave the OWTU numerous opportunities to step into the situation, including an initial period of exclusivity when only they alone were allowed to bid or propose a pathway. On every occasion they failed to satisfy the evaluators,” the Prime Minister said.

At Tuesday’s news briefing Roget said every single requirement requested, they would have provided. He said the OWTU had the knowledge to make the refinery profitable and the financial support.

Roget questioned if they had failed to satisfy the requirements, why were they in the process.

“Just for mamaguy? We are under no illusions,” he said

Pointing out that the selection process was being conducted by an independent entity, namely Scotia Bank International, and then passed on to the Cabinet for a decision which was set for June, Roget questioned Rowley’s shifting of that timeline from June to August. He questioned who benefits from this extension.

A June 17 release from the Office of the Prime Minister, said Rowley met with Jindal, chairman of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd at the Diplomatic Centre and stated his interest in the potential of the Petrotrin refinery. The release said this subject formed part of the discussions at the meeting.

At the news conference, Roget also raised issues of Jindal’s legal challenges, questioning what due diligence was done, given that the PM said he was unaware of the allegations and charges of corruption against him in the Indian court.

“Extreme bias has been shown in that process, when the head of the cabinet could step outside of the process and engage a contender.

“Did we not pass procurement legislation last year? What part of that legislation allows our PM to meet with an interested party in purchasing an asset of the State before anything else happens?” Roget asked.

“Scotia has been given the responsibility as an independent body to go through the process, select the bidder and put that before cabinet.”

In the circumstance, the trade unionist said, the meeting of Jindal and the prime minister, “can never be correct or right. That could never be ethically correct, morally correct, spiritually correct and, definitely not lawfully correct and right.”

“This is a scandal in the making, when the PM could change the rules of the game, engage a businessman at the Diplomatic Centre, to talk about the process and the refinery, when none of the other bidders were invited and announce an extension. We will not sit idly by and do nothing,” Roget pledged.

Rowley clarified that he was not responsible for evaluation or recommendation.

“Even as the government owns the refinery and proposals are frequently invited, that aspect of evaluating offers and recommendation to cabinet has been and is being done not by the prime minister but by a team of professional people identified and appointed by the Cabinet.

“The whole process is in the hands of Petrotrin and its subsidiaries under the authority of the minister who reports to a prime minister who reports to and leads the cabinet.”

Rowley said government is extremely buoyed by the expressions of interest in the refinery and the potential opportunities, should it ever become a viable entity again.

“This process is and has been one where the government has accepted the role of talking about the availability of the refinery and the desire of the Government to interest potential persons, agencies or companies to look at the prospect and see if we can find a good taker so that the refinery can be put back into operations, if successful.”

He said the main ingredient which is required is a sustainable supply of crude oil and secondly, a strong financial foundation to support and sustain such operations.

“As I said recently, after our constant work , at home and abroad, we are very happy that there are persons now expressing serious interest in the refinery.

The cabinet will establish a qualified evaluation team which will do their work, once the company opens the various proposals at the end of July.

“Those of us who have done the work will be very happy if at the end of the day we are able to have done positive movement towards a refining business, this time based on proper support of imported crude without being a threat or burden to the national treasury.

“The other simple fact is that job and business opportunities will be created regardless of who owns and operates the refinery, if it ever is reopened.”