UNC: Government heartless for spending $500,000 on refinery

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee – File photo

UNC Point-a-Pierre MP David Lee called the government “heartless” after Guaracara Refining Company (GRC) chairman Newman George revealed that $500,000 a month was being spent to preserve the former Petrotrin refinery at a Public Accounts Enterprise Committee (PAEC) meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting was held to examine the audited financial statements of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL) for the year ended September 30, 2019.

Contacted for a response to the cost of the refinery’s maintenance, Lee said, “It is very heartless of this government when the shut-down of the Petrotrin site has destroyed small business and medium businesses in Marbella.

Lee estimated $30 million had been spent on its maintenance since the refinery was mothballed in 2018.

“Why are you paying over $30 million to mothball scrap iron, and you have the Paria families who cannot even get a cent? They cannot even get one dollar and cannot even get a book bag for their children to go to school.”

“That is $30 million that could have been spent in purchasing laptops for children going to school. This government does things to suit their own agenda and is not for the greater good of this country.”

He said the figures were not surprising, as he and the Opposition had sought information on the cost of mothballing the refinery through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the numbers they got were similar.

Lee said the country would have been better off if the government had sold the refinery to the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union’s Patriotic Energy in 2019.

“It [the refinery’s value] is far less today, because in 2019, it was a few months that it had been shut down, and Patriotic had put up a proposal to this government,” Lee said.

“If anybody comes to purchase the refinery now, why didn’t you sell it to the OWTU where they would have gotten a better price, I’m sure, back then, than is what is being proposed now.”

Petrotrin’s refinery was mothballed in 2018. At the time, the government had to subsidise its operation to the tune of $4 billion to keep it going, as the refinery, which produced 40,000 barrels a day (bpd) at the time, had a capacity of 140,000 bpd.

In its last financial statement in 2019, Petrotrin recorded a loss of $2.8 billion. This was an improvement from the year before where it recorded $16.9 billion in losses.