We were misled.
That was the position advanced by Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget yesterday following a decision taken by Cabinet to reject the bid by the OWTU-owned Patriotic Energies and Technologies Ltd for the acquisition of the former Petrotrin refinery assets.
Speaking during a news conference at the union’s San Fernando headquarters, Roget said Patriotic’s proposal was backed by banking group Citi to raise US$700 million but the Government placed a counter-offer on the table which derailed Patriotic’s bid.
“We would have been derailed by the Government’s offer. The Government’s offer through the Minister of Finance on September 25, 2019, would have derailed Patriotic because Patriotic came to the table with a support for US$700 million to purchase these assets, move on and start it, and all now we would have had a refinery operating.
“The Government said no, listen, we have a better offer for you. We will give you ten years to pay and three years to start paying but here’s some ten things to work out. We did all of that but when the rubber hit the road now, where we’re supposed to really get this thing operational, the bondholders who were perhaps not a part of the Government’s offer said no, it cannot happen.”
He said after doing market research, engaging a consortium, incorporating a company, and spending tens of millions of dollars, he would hate to think Government knew it was going to reject their proposal.
“I would hate to think that (Finance Minister Colm Imbert) on November 11, 2020 knew. We were misled and the Cabinet must take responsibility and have in its deep consideration the fact that you misled this group, and not shut the door on us.”
He said there was something suspicious surrounding Cabinet’s decision to return to the open market to explore other options for the utilisation of the refinery assets in the shortest possible time-frame.
He asked if there were discussions by Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd or the Government, through a backdoor channel or otherwise, with any other agency while this process was going on.
“If you engage with me in earnest, you can’t be talking to somebody else. And how quick would you get somebody to come out of the woodwork and quickly restart this refinery now if you were not talking, or somebody wasn’t talking with somebody,” Roget said.
He asked why would Cabinet take a decision after all of this time and resources had been expended.
“Even if you had a problem with that offer, why would you not respond to our letter to examine how this can be resolved once and for all?”
Roget said since being mothballed in 2018, the refinery’s assets have been deteriorating, and if Government doesn’t readily have someone, then it would be looking at a lengthy process with further deterioration of refinery assets.
“The question is if nobody responds, what then?” Roget asked.
‘Stumbling blocks in our way’
Arguing that Government did not bend over backwards to conclude the deal, as Energy Minister Franklin Khan said yesterday, Roget added that in addition to misleading the OWTU, the Government appointed an evaluation team which the union believes is going to bring a preferred partner.
He claimed there was a person on that team who was also a member of transition team when Petrotrin shut down and who consistently raised objections.
“He put all of the stumbling blocks in our way, in our deliberations, which is why the thing couldn’t complete. They always raising issues from one thing to the other.
“We couldn’t complete and that is why the Prime Minister started to say we giving them the October 31 deadline. But that wasn’t our fault. It’s not our fault, Trinidad and Tobago.
“We have the money to restart. We accepted their offer in good faith. We accepted their offer from the Minister of Finance but the offer was not true it was not wholesome, it could not stand and because your offer couldn’t stand, the responsibility is on the Government to ensure that the process completes,” Roget said.
He said all Government had to do was remove the lien on the assets of Paria and Guaracara.
“They borrowed up to their throats and those who are holding the assets are not about to release those assets, and therefore that continues to be the issue,” Roget said.
He said both Imbert and Khan glossed over that during yesterday’s news conference.
“All the Government has to do is to make good on their commitment to remove the lien. If you can’t remove the lien to make good on your offer, tell the country that and then let us proceed with Credit Suisse to close this agreement,” Roget said. See Page 10