The Government has no plans to privatise Lake Asphalt, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said yesterday.
“I want to categorically state that there is no plan to privatise Lake Asphalt. These rumours are unfounded and are designed to create fear,” Ramnarine told the Express.
Last Saturday, Lake Asphalt workers, supported by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU), protested through the streets of La Brea against what they claimed was Government’s purported privatisation of Lake Asphalt—in particular, selling off assets to Chinese investors.
Ramnarine noted there was a question on the Parliament’s Order Paper from Laventille West Member of Parliament Nileung Hypolite on the same issue, and without preempting his response (in the House of Representatives), the answer was no.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. There are (also) no plans to privatise Petrotrin,” Ramnarine said.
He said at Petrotrin, neither the field rejuvenation programme nor the lease operation farm out programme involved the transfer of equity or sale of assets.
He did note Lake Asphalt had signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese company Beijing Oriental Yuhong to explore the construction of a waterproofing membrane plant, but the feasibility of that project was still under study, and the arrangement did not include anything about privatisation.
One of the critical raw materials for that project is bitumen, he had told the Express previously.
“In Trinidad, bitumen is produced specifically by Petrotrin. Currently most if not all our bitumen is being used on the highway construction project and other road projects so there is very little bitumen left for this project so one thing, we are looking at importing bitumen from nearby source—Venezuela, most likely— or increase bitumen output at Petrotrin,” he said.
In a recent interview with the Express upon his return from China as part of the Prime Minister’s delegation on her official visit last month, Ramnarine said he had advised the board of Lake Asphalt to make a return trip to China to discuss the prospects of selling Trinidad and Tobago’s asphalt to that country.
“One of the things that surprised me was the high level of interest in asphalt. Trinidad asphalt is very well known in China and I intend to ask Lake Asphalt to go back and take a delegation to speak specifically on asphalt...It will be really worth their while,” he had said. A lot of the roads in Beijing are paved using T&T’s asphalt, he said, including many new roads for the 2008 Olympics.
He did admit then that one of the constraints of the company was the processing plant.
“The raw asphalt is extracted then processed then exported so the current demand from China exceeds what that plant can actually do. It’s a bottleneck so Lake Asphalt is looking how it can do that and increase output,” he had said. He also responded yesterday to La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey’s claims that the asphalt processing plant will be moved to Point Lisas and run by Chinese for export to China. “I don’t know where he gets it from but that is not accurate. There are a lot of conspiracy theories around and we can’t run a country on rumour and conspiracy theory but on fact and policy,” he said.
He added he had recently received a Draft National Energy Policy prepared by a team of public servants from the Ministry and was in the process of reviewing it with the intention of taking it to Cabinet next week Thursday.