Young: US$1m payments to Venezuela not unusual

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Anil Roberts –

ENERGY Minister Stuart Young has said there is nothing unusual about Government paying US$1 million in taxes to Venezuela with respect to that country’s Dragon gas field.

He made this statement while responding to a question from Opposition Senator Anil Roberts in the Senate on May 17.

Young first spoke about this issue on the House of Representatives on May 13.

On that day, he was asked by Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee what payments will the National Gas Company (NGC) make to Venezuela before gas is produced from the Dragon field based on Venezuela’s exploration and production (E&P) licence granted to Shell and the NGC for Dragon.

Young said the payments due to Venezuela consisted of royalty, a special commission of five per cent, surface tax and social contributions totalling US$1 million, and a confidential signing bonus.

“As is normal with licences of this type, as I said there is a signing bonus to be paid in instalments. By definition that means that time has begun. So that will be paid prior to production, in instalments. There is some tied to feed and some tied to post-feed.”

He said other payments would only be due after production began, namely royalty and a special consideration of five per cent of the income earned from export of gas from the Dragon field.

“The annual surface rental and social contributions of US$1 million per year are to be made now, during this period, on an annual basis as is normal with licences of this type.”

He reiterated that position in response to Roberts’ question on Friday.

Young said, “In fact, just this morning in discussions with the Ministry of Finance and looking at it, we have a number of companies in TT that are paying us on an annual basis, for scholarships, for sums way above US$1 million and they have not even begun to explore the fields and blocks that we have granted licences to them for.”

He added, “So that to suggest that the sum of US$1 million being paid as part of the E&P licence with Venezuela is something unusual, it absolutely is not.”

Young reminded senators, “The revenue that we stand to benefit from and derive from this deal will be in the billions of US dollars.

As Government continues its work to progress the Dragon gas project, Young said, “No one can predict what will happen with respect to geopolitics or anything in life.

He used the UNC’s June 15 internal elections as an example.

“At this stage, I can’t predict who will be the chairman or the deputy chairman of the UNC come the end of next month.”

All posts with the exception of that of political leader, are up for grabs in the UNC’s elections in June.

Young said, “That shows that we will continue to do all of the work in the competent and confident manner that we have continued to do so and we will continue to do what is best for the people of TT.”

Roberts was unimpressed by Young’s comments.

He said, “A brilliant waffle by the minister but he did not answer the question.”

Roberts asked, “Does the government feel confident that US$1 million without the surety or the certainty that any revenue will be forthcoming to this country was a correct, responsible decision?

Young replied, “The answer is absolutely, yes. That sum was negotiated downwards and I take the opportunity to remind the population that US$1 million spent is a revenue generating expenditure as compared to the $400 million plus dollars spent on Lifesport that produced nothing but criminality for TT to deal with.”

Lifesport was the brainchild of Roberts while he was sport minister under the former People’s Partnership (PP) coalition government in 2012.

The programme was found to be riddled with corruption and was shut down in July 2014 by then prime minister (now Opposition Leader) Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Roberts resigned as sport minister that same month.

Then national security minister Gary Griffith said he was the one who alerted cabinet to to allegations of impropriety in Lifesport.

He said based on his investigations at the time, Roberts had done no wrong.

Senate President Nigel de Freitas instructed Roberts to ask the next question on the order paper.

Roberts replied, “I have nothing else. Small minds, small brain, small pin.”

De Freitas instructed Roberts to sit down and not make any commentary before asking a question.

Roberts complied with de Freitas’ advice and asked a separate question to Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales.