RADHICA DE SILVA
As the government announced it will not be bullied into signing the refinery acquisition agreement before elections, president general of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget has lashed back at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley accusing him of using the refinery as a ruse to get votes.
Speaking at a press conference held at the OWTU’s Paramount headquarters yesterday, Roget said it appeared that the OWTU’s Patriotic Energies and Technologies Limited was being set up and may not get the former Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and port from the PNM-led government.
Giving an overview of the negotiations, Roget said they had connected the dots and was now fully confident that the government was acting “with subterfuge and deception.”
Roget said on September 20, the government announced that Patriotic Energies had won the bid beating out 77 competitors. Patriotic was given one month to satisfy a 10 point requirement.
He added the company and its international team of lawyers worked out the technical and financial details and handed over the 10-point requirement ahead of time but it would be four months later on January 15 that the government finally organized a team to begin negotiations.
He said both teams meet on February 19 and in March they did a site visit of the refinery and port.
When COVID-19 hit in March, negotiations were stalled and Roget said there was no meeting in May and June even though Patriotic was eager to meet and close off the deal.
On July 14 the company provided a document for Patriotic to sign but when the lawyers perused it, they realized that it was not in the best interest of the company. Meetings were held on July 15 and July 17.
“There were things in that document that ought not to be there and they wanted us to sign, but we could not sign that. We responded in detail on July 17 and on July 18 there was another meeting and there were six outstanding issues to deal with,” Roget said.
He explained that on July 15 the Prime Minister announced that within days the union will be signing the first phase of the asset purchase agreement. After a marathon session, all six issues were dealt with, Roget said.
“We were engaging and when we saw that we removed some 40 items and narrowed it down to six items we felt that was progress. We spent a marathon session, disposed with all of them and agreed that there was nothing else,” Roget said.
He said the lawyers representing the government refused to draft the final agreement and Patriotic’s team at great expense, drafted the final agreement. However, he said, after this was done, the negotiating team representing the government, raised 22 new issues and has since refused to meet with the Patriotic team until after elections.
“They came back with 22 new other issues because our resolving of the six issues didn’t fit their time table. They felt we will be bogged down by the six major issues before elections so we were given the responsibility to draft the agreement. We had a marathon session from 11 am to 10 pm in Port-of-Spain. When we asked them to draft the final agreement, one of their lawyers said he had a birthday party with his 40-year-old daughter. Another one said his car had to fix in Vistabella. A whole lot of frivolous excuses. Those are the calibre of people that the Prime Minister sent to discuss with us. Its either he sent them on purpose knowing that they are incompetent and can’t close or won’t close off or its either he sent them with instructions to raise frivolous issues while he gives the country false hope,” Roget said.
Having connected the dots, Roget said he was now convinced the entire negotiation was a ruse.
“The Prime Minister hides behind Kamla and says they will make a song and dance if this is closed. He had said in a matter of days on July 15 that the matter will be closed. We have connected the dots and that’s how we feel. We see that it’s all about the votes,” Roget said.
He warned Dr Rowley that their votes were not for sale, noting that the UNC stood a good chance of winning the upcoming general elections.
If the UNC wins, Roget said Patriotic will not get the refinery. He said the company had already invested tens of millions of US dollars and if the deal falls apart, the government will be facing a great legal battle. He noted that Dr Rowley and the PNM was trying to drain the OWTU’s financial reserves so that it could weaken the union.
On Tuesday, Energy Minister Franklyn Khan said the government will not be bullied into signing the deal before the election. He said negotiations will continue after the people go to the polls on August 10.