THE Sunday Express report of massive theft, amounting to some $20 million in equipment and machinery at Heritage Petroleum is evidence of a scandal that should have been averted.
In fact, the disclosures related by company chairman Wilfred Espinet, and CEO Mike Wylie reveal a gaping hole in what the country had been told about the security of assets.
In the six months or so since the company took over operations from what was the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago, it has been revealed that “saboteurs and thieves” found their way onto the compounds. They have been reported to have moved away with transformers, motors, power lines and cables.
We have been told that in the beginning such activity had been “restricted to idle equipment,” but that in “recent months” there has been a “marked increase” in illegal activity and the theft of “active transformers, electrical equipment and motors”.
The brunt of this activity is said to have taken place in the “forested areas between Fyzabad and Palo Seco,” and also included theft of an average of 275 barrels of oil a day, amounting to a total of some 50 million barrels, a cost of an estimated US$3 million. What, therefore, should have been a wake-up call was clearly left insufficiently heeded.
But it was precisely as a result of these possibilities why the company opted not to retain the Estate Police force which had been part of its traditional staff complement. It hired the services of the private Amalgamated Security company to ensure safety and security of plant and equipment. But informed opinion had opposed this from the outset, pointing to the reality that persons not as familiar with the territory, so to speak, would be at a disadvantage in knowing where critical assets were located and the importance of their function.
While we are in no way pointing fingers at anyone, the level of unresolved hostility in the traumatic termination exercise at the former company, given the manner in which transition was effected with a huge column of mixed signals and unanswered questions in the accompanying public discourse should have made for greater attention to safety and security of fixed assets.
What is being revealed here confirms that not nearly enough attention was paid to the protection and safe-guarding of those assets. “We are dealing with people who are very familiar with our equipment and where it is located,” Mr Wylie said. This is a realisation, however, that the decision-makers put in charge of the transition would have been expected to take on board, from day one.
Obviously, six months later, it is evident that there was massive under-estimation about the potential for sabotage.
The company has to move swiftly now, to address what has thus far been its failure to secure public assets in an environment that it expects to remain hostile for some time still to come.