Like it or not, you must admit Keith Rowley’s PNM has avoided an election defeat in August 2020 over the refinery closure bacchanal, used its old enemy the OWTU to do it, and Rowley has now dropped a Saturday night ‘bull pistle’ on Roget’s union.
You don’t see it? Let me elucidate how some Trinis are seeing it from Canada.
Closing down the refinery, the country’s major source of foreign exchange, just two years before the 2020 election, was a disaster that could well have caused the PNM to lose that election. Handing over the government owned refinery to a foreign company to restart would have been just as bad, and caused even the PNM base to rebel.
Rowley avoided the whammy by appearing to sell the refinery to a Trinidad entity the OWTU under exceedingly friendly conditions. Notice I said appearing to sell. He basically gave away a billion dollar refinery to his old enemy the OWTU for $700 million, on no deposit, no payment for 3 years, and government guarantee for loan to refurbish the plant. What could be better? That they were giving the refinery to an enemy showed there was no favouritism to PNM insiders. The public lapped it up, and especially the PNM base, the only group that mattered to the PNM, the group that could have cost them the election by withdrawing support over the refinery closing disaster.
The OWTU jumped at the opportunity to get into the biggest of big business in Trinidad, the oil business, on such favourable terms. People keep saying the black man can’t run big business, we will show them, said Roget and company. They couldn’t lose. They had a contract. They would use OPM other people money to re-open the refinery, re-hire all them retrenched refinery workers and recover those thousands of union dues. The loss of 4,500 monthly union dues out of 11,000 union members would be reversed.
Unfortunately for him, union boss Roget took his own advice instead of that from Trevor Farrell and other top level economists. Roget had no experience in government and he was going up against Rowley who had plenty and also busloads of quality advisers. He didn’t ask why his enemy was being so kind to him.
And so the Rowley government played out the negotiations for the sale and final transfer of the refinery right through the election and avoided the voter blowback over the refinery issue to pull out a narrow election victory.
Now there was no need to play nice with Mr Roget and his Patriotic rubbish, as Rowley had clear sailing to 2025. Told Roget the sale of the refinery was conditional on your meeting these conditions to be judged by us, and we find you haven’t met said conditions, sale is off, close the door when you leave.
Shock and awe indeed. Roget realizes there’s nothing he can do. The big money he spent preparing for the handover and refurbishing of the refinery cannot be recovered. The retrenched workers are not coming back with their juicy union dues. Rowley has handed Roget his head on a platter.
Now Rowley can do as he likes and sell the refinery to whomever he pleases whether local or foreign.
What else can you call it but a PNM triumph and an OWTU humiliation?