PM Rowley to OWTC – ‘Buy the refinery’

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Dr Keith Rowley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister

In wake of the ongoing storm over the future of Trinidad and Tobago’s Petrotrin, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has announced that the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) will be given the first option to buy the beleaguered Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

It was announced days ago that due to unsustainable debt levels which can potentially damage the economy and the credit rating of the oil-producing island state, the refinery operations of Petrotrin will be closed and up to 1,700 workers sent home.

During his address to the nation on Sunday evening, Dr Rowley outlined a host of measures that were under consideration to return Petrotrin to profitability. “The Government’s vision is for Petrotrin to be profitable and internationally competitive and a leader in the local energy sector; an employer of choice and a source of national pride,” he said, adding that it was necessary to excise the refinery operations to form a separate company. “The refining assets of Petrotrin can now be put in a separate company for opportunity attention [and] the OWTU will be given the first option to own and operate it on the most favourable terms,” he said.

Dr Rowley noted that Petrotrin’s Board is developing a model for the company that is designed specifically to manage its assets to yield the most value for Trinidad and Tobago. “The company will be better structured, with improved work processes and the capacity to respond quickly to changes in the international market,” said the Prime Minister.

End of days

He noted that the Point-a-Pierre refinery is 101 years old and has reached the end of its commercially viable days. “It is now at a stage where it is haemorrhaging cash and the cost of rehabilitating it is way more than its potential to ever be profitable, competitive or sustainable. The only commercially sound and viable option is to close the refinery; export Petrotrin’s oil which will be produced by an efficient and aggressive exploration programme and to import products to replace those previously supplied by the Point a Pierre refinery. This will move the company from a state of chronic money losing to one which will turn a tidy profit for the taxpayers,” said Dr Rowley.

The PM said that the decision to close the refinery was taken after detailed analysis and deep introspection. “This is not a decision that was made lightly or easily. Options were explored and reviewed. We sent the board back on a number of occasions to consider different scenarios and possibilities. At every step the effect on workers and their families and the communities that rely on refinery operations was considered,” said Dr Rowley.

It is reported that following the PM’s speech, the General President of the OWTU Ancel Roget during a ‘call in’ on a television broadcast rejected the PM’s offer and expressed concern for Dr Rowley’s credibility in his engagements with the union over the issues surrounding Petrotrin. Roget said the position of the union is that the refinery operations can be viable but that the union had no interest in becoming owners of the facility.