Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen has written Finance Minister and Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Energy Affairs Colm Imbert regarding the fact that the last meeting of the Committee was held on the 21st February 2018 and to date, there has been no indication of when the next meeting of this Committee will be held.
In his letter, Ramdeen called Imbert’s attention to the February meeting when the Committee was examining the Report of the Team appointed to Review the Operations of Petrotrin and make Recommendations for its Restructuring. He reminded Imbert the purpose of that exercise was to provide a report to Parliament which will be considered by Cabinet and Government with respect to the Petrotrin’s future.
The Opposition Senator noted that before the Committee was given an opportunity to complete its task, the Petrotrin’s Board of Directors, who were before the Committee at the time, took the decision to close the Company’s refinery operations, a decision that was subsequently accepted by Cabinet and Government which resulted in job losses in excess of 5000 workers directly and 4000 indirectly.
Senator Ramdeen took strong issue with this decision, saying there was no communication to the Committee of the Board’s decision and the abandonment of the restructuring exercise.
Saying that a Parliamentary Committee of the Parliament of the Republic should never be treated with such scant discourtesy, Ramdeen told Imbert that while Petrotrin’s Chairman was appearing before the Committee and had made various and diverse statements on this matter, the Chairman did not consider it appropriate for the Committee to be formally informed of the decision of this most important State-owned Enterprise that lies at the heart of the Energy Sector even though at the time of the last meeting, the Committee was being presented with the plans for the restructuring of the Company.
He said the consequences of Petrotrin’s closure would not affect only the energy sector but the entire economy and future development of Trinidad and Tobago. These decisions were all being made and taken in an atmosphere of secrecy whereby the public is only informed of the decisions ex post facto and is provided with no information by the Government justifying these decisions.
Ramdeen also drew Imbert’s attention to the announced plans to dispose of the Petrotrin’s assets, valued at billions of dollars. He called it most disturbing and troubling since the disposal of these assets are being rushed while there is absent of an effective and proper functioning procurement regulator that can inject independence and ensure that the people of Trinidad and Tobago are not cheated of their patrimony and that of our future generations.
“An effective and functioning procurement regulator would have ensured the absence of corruption, nepotism and favoritism in the disposal of the assets belonging to the people of our country and would have guaranteed that the process engaged was fair and transparent” Ramdeen added.
Ramdeen expressed his concern to Imbert that as the Chairman of the JSC on Energy Affairs, he (Imbert) has made public statements seeking to support and justify the decisions of the Government and did not considered it appropriate and necessary to convene a meeting of the Committee, charged with the responsibility for oversight over the Energy Affairs of our country to examine and subject the decisions of his Government to critical analysis if only for the benefit of each and every citizen of our country to ensure that these decision are beneficial to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and are transparent and free from corruption, nepotism and malfeasance.
The failure of the Committee to meet for the past ten months has been compounded when during this period of delay, the Government and the Board of Petrotrin have decided to close the refinery at Petrotrin, spend $2.7Billion on termination packages, establish four new companies to undertake the former operations of Petrotrin, place over 9000 workers on the breadline, sell and transfer the assets formerly belonging to Petrotrin without any form of independent oversight, distribute lands that belonged to Petrotrin in a self-designed scheme, and terminate the supply of regular gasoline that has a direct impact on significant sectors of the population.
He told Imbert that as Chairman of this JSC and the line Minister for the operationalization of the procurement regulator under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, the inordinate and unjustifiable delay in effecting this office responsible for independent oversight of all of these decisions by the Government is an affront to common sense to conclude that the failure to hold a meeting of the Committee within the last 10 months is unintentional.
Ramdeen added that Imbert’s failure to convene a JSC Meeting for the past 10 months undermined the ability of the Committee to discharge its parliamentary duty to the public in the public interest and it deprived the Committee of it power to subject the actions of the government to independent scrutiny to ensure transparency and good governance.
“Most importantly your failure undermines the constitutional and democratic process established by the Parliament of the Republic to uphold our democracy,” Ramdeen added.
Saying that he was confident of Imbert’s understanding of the seriousness of his inactions, Ramdeen called on Imbert to formally convene a meeting of the JSC of the Parliament on Energy Affairs to examine and report to the Parliament on the actions of the Government during the last 10 months in closing the Petrotrin refinery and all consequential actions taken and proposed to be taken by the Government and report to the Parliament on same as a matter of urgency in the public interest.
He further advised that within hours of his letter to Imbert, he was advised that the JSC on Energy Affairs will meet early in 2019 at which time an agenda will be determined for the year.