Colm Imbert

INTERVENING: Colm Imbert

FUEL retailer Unipet owes State-owned Paria Fuel Trading Company more than $100 million, acting Energy Minister Colm Imbert disclosed yesterday as he responded to an urgent question in the Senate from Senator Wade Mark.

Imbert said he plans to intervene in the impasse to bring “some relief”.

His statements came in the face of Paria’s decision to discontinue the supply of fuel to Unipet. He said Unipet got product on a good-faith basis, but refused to sign an agreement.

“Unipet was given fuel in good faith by Paria, Unipet declined to pay for fuel and owed Paria $172 million as of a couple of weeks ago. Paria and Unipet met and Unipet agreed to make a part payment of $68 million. However it only made a payment of $64 million and it has still declined to sign any written arrangement with Paria. And it now owes Paria in excess of $100 million for fuel supplied without any written agreement,” Imbert stated.

The minister said there was “no breakdown in negotiations”.

He said when Paria was formed last year there was a short-term written contract with Unipet which expired in March 2019.

He said from March to October the arrangement between Paria Fuel Trading Company and Unipet had been by way of a monthly arrangement which is executed by a letter on the same terms and conditions as the previous arrangement, in terms of credit and so on, which is signed by both parties.

He said between April and October, Unipet signed the letter and adhered to the credit terms for the supply of fuel which is 45 days in the first instance, then 55 days and so on from the first supply of fuel.

He said in November Paria sent the usual monthly letter to Unipet for its signature but Unipet declined to sign.

“This is an issue of non-payment for fuel supplied. It is an issue of non-signatory of an agreement which has been in force for several months. As the acting Minister of Energy it is my intention to intervene in this matter to bring some relief. However, we have to ensure that anybody who is supplied with fuel that is paid for by taxpayers’ money pays their bills and pays them on time. As I said NP has the capacity to supply fuel. But I intend to intervene and see if I can get this matter resolved in the shortest possible time, get the parties back together so we can produce a proper agreement between Paria and Unipet going forward without any difficulties,” Imbert said.

He said National Petroleum (NP) had a network of 117 service stations which were strategically located throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago.

He said Unipet has 24 operating service stations primarily located in densely populated areas, also served by NP service stations.

Imbert said he was advised that NP has the existing capacity and capability to meet the fuelling requirements of the motoring public and that additional resources have been put in place in terms of the supply and delivery of fuel at NP service stations to deal with any issues that may arise.

He said it was expected that the impasse would be of a short duration, minimising any disruption to the motoring public.

Running out of gas 

As some Unipet gas stations started running out of fuel, particularly super gas, yesterday evening, the company described as “unfortunate” a decision by Paria to cut its supply.

In a brief statement, Unipet said it “reaffirms its on-going commitment to engaging in meaningful and amicable discussions aimed at resolving any supply issues which may arise.

“The current supply impasse with the Paria Fuel Trading Company is unfortunate and Unipet reaffirms our commitment to finding a speedy resolution.”

The company apologised to customers.

“We apologise sincerely for any inconvenience which this impasse may cause to our customers and the general public.”

It told customers it was “confident that soon you will be able to access products from your preferred supplier”.

Paria said Tuesday negotiations on its supply agreement with Unipet had failed to progress since April 2019.

As well, Unipet had defaulted on its September and October 2019 payments, Paria said.

President of the Petroleum Dealers Association (PDA) Robin Naraynsingh said yesterday he was heartened to hear that Finance Minister and acting Energy Minister Colm Imbert was willing to intervene to resolved the fuel supply issue.

Naraynsingh, who had called for intervention by Imbert or Energy Minister Franklin Khan, warned that many people faced a bleak Christmas if the impasse wasn’t settled. 

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