Like many Trinis at home and abroad, I was quite astonished to hear that the Trinidad government had sold the Petrotrin refinery to the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) owned company Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd.
The price was not the issue for us, nor the conditions under which the country’s sole refinery was to be run, but something much more basic.
Hadn’t the Trinidad government learned from the experience of the steel mill ISCOTT, the many failed state enterprises of the past, the wretched utilities for electricity, water, telephones and the post office about letting black people run large complex businesses?
Make no apologies for the truth. OWTU is chock full of black people, like the sad sack businesses mentioned above and the PNM government of Trinidad and Tobago. Where will Patriotic Energies find black people with a decent track record of running a large commercial organization AT A PROFIT? I understand that all the black people in Trinidad who have successfully run a multi million-dollar business could fit in a maxi taxi, and not the big maxi either.
Don’t come with any idea about the OWTU boys going to hire other capable people who may not happen to be black. Now that the black man has his hands on the refinery, the economic soul of the economy, no way is he going to hand it over to no Indian man, no Chinese woman, no Syrian, no white man to run. Why didn’t they get capable individuals of whatever race to run ISCOTT, TTEC, WASA, PTSC and all the other business failures?
On the matter of the oil refinery alone, for such a critical business for the country the question of experience must be paramount.
What exactly is the track record of the black man/PNM government (same thing in my view) on running an oil refinery?
Strike one, the PNM government in 1974 bought the assets of Shell Oil and formed TRINTOC to run the business, including the Point Fortin oil refinery. The white people who had run Shell at a profit for decades departed and the black people take over. Fast forward to 1993 and I am told the new operators buss Trintoc and refinery too and the Point Fortin refinery close down.
Strike two, the PNM government formed Petrotrin out of the two state owned companies, and then the black man had control of the only oil refinery producing the nation’s gasoline, jet fuel, bitumen, and much of the foreign exchange. In less than 20 years them fellers buss the Petrotrin refinery and the rest of Petrotrin too. We know all about how that nearly capsized the economy of the country.
Strike three, the PNM government selected the OWTU’s Patriotic Energies as the best of over 70 applicants to revive the Petrotrin refinery, despite the OWTU nothing like a resume of successfully running a major business enterprise. Their only claim to fame is strike one and strike two noted above.
Can we be blamed for fearing that the black people in the OWTU will behave true to form and mash up the refinery in short order? The Petrotrin refinery is too important to fail (again). Despite government’s patriotic desire to have the refinery in the hands of nationals, those hands must be competent and have the sheen of success on them.
Some may say it’s unfair to focus on black people’s competence in this refinery revival business, that black people have been treated unfairly in history and deserve a chance, that there are black people with proven competence in business.
All of which can be fair comment in another place. But this is not a history classroom, this is not a Junior Chamber exercise for interested young entrepreneurs, this is not a job shadowing program. This is hardball cricket for big stakes and Trinidad needs experienced openers with big scores on their dockets.
The facts speak for themselves. The PNM government has a horrible record of failing to run large business enterprises successfully, and their competence to judge others to do that job must be questioned. The OWTU is no better at running large businesses. Both parties are stacked to the gills with black people who as a group have largely failed to establish and succeed at commercial business of any size or type.
What can be done at this stage to head off a catastrophe at the hands of OWTU’s Patriotic Energies? Very little, I fear. The PNM, a majority government, has awarded the refinery and will not be swayed. OWTU feels this is their time to shine and nobody will be allowed to steal the opportunity from them.
Prayers, very fervent prayers, may be an avenue of hope. Maybe government can quietly enlist competent big business experts from firms like Neal and Massy, ANSA, Helen Bhagwansingh’s hardwares and the like to offer some help in private. OWTU can check its membership list to see if any have the kind of skills needed, and I am not talking about masons and plumbers. Foreign companies with solid experience in running refineries can be approached for help and here I can mention Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries which runs the world’s biggest refinery at Jamnagar in India.
Nobody wants Patriotic Energies to fail, as that would be disastrous for all of Trinidad. Many like me fear that the way this whole refinery affair has gone means the outlook for failure would seem to be equal to the chances of success.