Saturday Express Editorial

Listed as the country’s newest State-owned “emerging oil and gas company,” the major aim of Heritage Petroleum is “to focus on exploration, development, production and marketing of crude oil”.

The company, which was formed from the ashes of what was the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Petrotrin), has advertised itself as aiming to be “a leading producer of crude oil, structured to deliver responsibly and safely” to its customers. It describes itself as a high-performance organisation focused on sustainability, talented employees, technical and operational excellence, and “a strategy to deliver premium shareholder value, while becoming the employer of choice and a source of pride” for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

An issue has arisen, however, concerning the current status of the company’s chief executive officer, Mike Wylie. The country got to find out, by the way, that Mr Wylie “had to take unplanned leave to attend to medical matters.” This was contained in a letter from chairman Wilfred Espinet to the Energy Minister on June 7. It was published in this newspaper on July 10. There has been no further communication on what is a critical issue regarding executive management at Heritage. Mr Wylie is therefore considered to be off the job for more than two months now. This is disconcerting, and potentially destabilising.

Given the hopes which have been placed on this company to meet its mandate, its responsibility for the highest traditions in corporate governance ought to be premium. In the aftermath of the closure of Petrotrin and the severe social, political and economic consequences arising for thousands of citizens and their families, this should have been seen as among the core values at Heritage. Proper, timely and respectful corporate communications is a core tenet of that responsibility.

In the company’s list of core values, it speaks of its intentions for recruitment and reward, of what appears as an iron-clad demand for “high integrity, honesty, respect, trust and ethics”.

The Trinidad and Tobago public constitutes Heritage’s ultimate stakeholder and therefore deserving of the best traditions in this regard as well. There ought to be nothing less than straight, honest communications concerning the state of affairs regarding the company’s chief executive. Who is in charge while Mr Wylie is away is of critical concern, not just for a public which has the right to know, but equally for clients, customers, partners and other organisations doing business with the company.

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Such are the hopes and aspirations placed on this company for a successful operation that the authorities felt compelled to announce in April this year that it had already generated more than a half billion dollars after four months of operation. The Finance Minister was reported as saying that the company was expected to provide 8.7 per cent of government revenue. Counting on what he then called “sufficient investment and proper management,” Mr Wylie himself told reporters the company would be able to generate sufficient cash flow to contribute significantly to repayment of the huge debts incurred by its predecessor, Petrotrin.

Management of the company, therefore, must be seen at all times to be in the best, most capable hands. That sense of confidence must be communicated to the national community at all times. The situation regarding the CEO’s presence on the job must therefore not be the subject of a guessing game.

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