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President General of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union Ancil Roget, holds up documents from the Minister of Finance and Patriotic Energies and Technologies Co. Ltd, as he addresses members of the media during a press conference at the Union’s Head at Paramount building in San Fernando on Tuesday.

Two days after rejecting Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company’s (Patriotic) proposal to acquire the former assets of Petrotrin, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the Cabinet has agreed to give the company another 15 days to secure $US500 million.

During a media conference on Tuesday, Energy and Energy Affairs Minister Franklin Khan said the negotiation failed because Patriotic did not show its ability to raise the money needed to purchase the Guaracara Refining Company and the Paria Fuel Trading Company.

Imbert said all Patriotic produced was a letter from the Royal Bank of Canada, stating their interest in assisting the company. He said the bank gave no guarantee to finance the deal.

However, Patriotic’s parent organisation, the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) said that it was the Government that mishandled the negotiation. Patriotic initially offered an upfront payment of US$700 million, but the Government countered, presenting the company with a ten-year payment plan and three years moratorium.

OWTU’s president general Ancel Roget said the Government changed its mind after it could not free the assets from in lien it incurred from creditors.

In a media conference on Tuesday, Roget called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to meet with Patriotic and its financier, Credit Suisse so the acquisition could conclude.

But in a media release from Imbert yesterday, he noted that by letter dated September 25, 2019, the Government informed Patriotic that it was the preferred bidder for certain assets of Guaracara and Paria. The first item in the list of deliverables in the letter was the confirmation of Patriotic’s ability to finance the purchase and operation of the refinery.

A letter from Patriotic to Corporation Sole dated January 18, stated that “In our conversations with Credit Suisse, they have expressed great enthusiasm and confidence of their capacity to successfully finance the acquisition price of US$500 Million for Patriotic.

“Accordingly, in my capacity as Corporation Sole, I was directed by Cabinet to write to Patriotic today to inform them that Cabinet met and decided today that Patriotic will be given a further 15 days, up to Friday, February 5, 2021, to produce from Credit Suisse, a firm, binding commitment to finance for Patriotic, the acquisition price for the assets referred to above of US$500 Million,” Imbert said.

Should Patriotic fail to meet the deadline, the Government will accept new bids for the assets.

New bidder emerges

The Confederation of Regional Business Chambers is considering submitting a bid and is already discussing local and foreign investors for its efforts.

President of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce Kiran Singh said the Confederation comprises of 14 business chambers across the country. Singh said that members had preliminary discussions already and there is an agenda to meet and draft a proposal to acquire the refinery.

“We want to throw our hat in the ring and make some positive contribution to the overall conclusion of the old Petrotrin refinery sale. It remains worrying for us in South Trinidad with so many thousands of workers laid off, including those in the downstream industry which has not recovered since it relied so heavily on Petrotrin,” Singh said.

Chairman of the Couva Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce Ramchand Rajbal Maraj said the failed negotiation between the Government and Patriotic was sad. Maraj said many people were hoping for a restart of the refinery so it could provide much-needed employment. Given that the Government and Patriotic gave conflicting accounts of the negotiations, he said the business community would like to know what really happened.

Maraj said if Patriotic is truthful, then the Government is obligated to give the company another chance.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has labelled as bizarre, this move by Government to give Patriotic another try.

In a statement, she questioned how the company would secure the amount in a short space of time.

She accused the Government of having a lack of accountability and openness.

“The Government is clearly playing games with our sacred billion-dollar assets by operating in this ad hoc manner.”