Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Big heads in the sand

 As the oil spill recedes from the minds of all except those poor and vulnerable who will be affected for years to come, the  rest of us shouldn’t sleep too comfortably. Petrotrin will produce another huge oil spill. 

According to Malcolm Jones and Khalid Hassanali, former chairman and present company president respectively, there has been no maintenance of pipelines and other company assets. Jones  says  “Petrotrin’s infrastructure is in a very bad state. Pipelines are dilapidated. You have tanks that are falling down. You have real problems”. Hassanali admits  “we have not been very good at maintaining our assets”. But have we heard anything about reversing 40 years of neglect in this critical national company?

Malcolm Jones thinks the repair job will cost billions. But $2.7 billion was wasted under his tenure as chairman of Petrotrin on an aborted gas to liquids plant. And, like with everything else in this country, we simply sail along, a ship of fools, with hope but no plans to avoid another disaster. And big ones are coming, I assure you.

 Our leaders hide from reality, their big heads in the sand, but they are easily let off the hook, whilst citizens suffer from rack and ruin inflicted by those entrusted with the nation’s future. Such national complacency and deliberate forgetfulness!

No one is asking Malcolm Jones what he did about the decaying infrastructure at Petrotrin and whether he brought it to the attention of his minister or his good friend and then prime minister Patrick Manning.  Nobody is questioning  Khalid Hassanali, professional at Petrotrin for decades and now company president, whether he brought the dangerous neglect to the attention of  his  superiors including  his present chairman and minister. 

And what about Patrick Manning himself, a former minister of energy, parliamentarian for over four decades, prime minister for 13 years, and considered an energy expert?  Surely he knew about the state of Petrotrin. And Basdeo Panday,  renowned labour leader and parliamentarian for over three decades and prime minister for six years.

And  Kamla Persad-Bissessar, parliamentarian for 23 years and present Prime Minister. They had to know our economic flagship was rotting beneath the surface. Others must also answer, including minsters of energy, many of whom worked in Petrotrin before entering politics. We have had Barry Barnes, Finbar Gangar, Eric Williams and Kevin Ramnarine, all proud to claim Petrotrin pedigree.

So behold this galaxy of our best and brightest, expertise and experience at such high levels that did nothing to maintain Petrotrin’s pipelines, the lifeline of the nation’s economy. They should all hangs their heads in eternal shame and be charged for criminal irresponsibility. We are talking here about our energy sector, our main revenue earner and these high level slackers did nothing to protect the country and its people while earning the fattest salaries and perks in the country, walking about puffed up and pompous whilst the company pipelines rotted away. 

And don’t leave out Errol McLeod, president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union for 30 years with his erstwhile sidekick  David Abdulah also long associated with OWTU. 

Did they know about the state of Petrotrin?  Did they bring it to the attention of the company? Or did they just agitate for more workers’ pay to sustain the union’s coffers?  Did they not think it was their responsibility to inform the nation of the state of its breadwinner industry? Did they not see their responsibility to protect their members by protecting Petrotrin? 

Every Labour Day McLeod thundered voluminously and militantly in Butler’s Fyzabad. With all that hot air, did he once mention the state of Petrotrin’s infrastructure?

The fearless, caring Butler would never have ignored the rotting pipelines. The great labour liberator would never have been reduced to a neutered minister, fawning all over his boss, grateful for a “ten days’’ as acting prime minister. 

See your leaders who lecture and pontificate about responsibility and commitment to country. Hollow words from the heart of emptiness. If they loved Trinidad and Tobago they would have protected the pipelines. The neglect of Petrotrin reveals how uncaring our leaders have been of this nation, this place that has bred and fed them. 

And observe them as difficulties mount with the same Petrotrin and our energy sector. Watch them do nothing about the coming crisis. Minister Ramnarine has  warned that  Petrotrin is in a ‘‘very serious financial situation” which will “not go away anytime soon” and that  “there has been a literal collapse”  in  refinery earnings because “the United States market has been flooded with shale gas and oil.” So the  Government is aware of a long term threat to the country’s revenues which will mean growing deficits and debts at the present rate of spending. 

They  ought to also know British Petroleum expects that “America’s climb to become the world’s largest energy producer will shrink the market for global gas and oil trade”; that global energy consumption will drop from the 52 per cent surge over the last 20 years to 41 per cent between now and 2035; and that oil will be the slowest growing of the major fuels whilst the fastest growing class of energy will be renewables, with annual growth of 6.4 per cent, attaining 15 per cent of the global energy market by 2035.

 In other words, Trinidad and Tobago is in big trouble unless we stop relying on the energy sector as our principal source of revenue. But expect no word from anyone at the top, Government or the Opposition, about economic diversification except the stale platitudes we have been having for 50 years.

 Our big heads will remain in the sand.    

• Ralph Maraj is a former 

government minister