Sunday, February 18, 2018

Compensation catch-22

Express editorial logo383

Mark Fraser

From the beginning, the response to the Petrotrin oil spill disaster has been plagued by an absence of leadership by the energy industryís regulatory authorities. Despite being the party responsible for the oil spill, Petrotrin has been allowed enormous latitude for shaping the countryís response to the worst oil spill in the nationís history. Instead of taking charge as regulator, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs has been inclined to give way to Petrotrin in managing the response.

The consequences of this failure to take command of the situation are now evident in the stasis affecting the community of La Brea.

Of the many victims of this disaster, the people of La Brea are likely to suffer the greatest life-changing consequences.

Petrotrinís agreement to pay La Brea fisherfolk a daily compensation of $1,200 was an important but unsustainable strategy. Such payments could only have been an interim response in the context of a well-conceived, executed and phased recovery plan for the area.

An effective management response would have required the plan to be negotiated with, and fully communicated to the community, its representatives and other relevant stakeholders with ongoing monitoring, evaluation and progress reports linked to clear goals and objectives. In the absence of such a plan, neither Petrotrin nor the community can have any agreed basis for altering compensation arrangements.

This is exactly where the parties now find themselves. From Petrotrinís perspective, the challenge lies in weaning the fishing community off guaranteed compensation payments; from the communityís perspective, the challenge is in holding on to such payments until it can be guaranteed of a secure livelihood.

While both positions are valid and reasonable, it should have been obvious from the beginning that this conundrum, whenever it occurred, would have to be resolved by prior agreement on the terms for terminating compensation payments. The fact that the public can discern no clear policy in this matter is the result of the regulatorís failure in managing the process in a manner that has the confidence of all parties.

The outlook, therefore, is for a deepening of community hurt and anger based on its view of being neglected and abandoned by those entrusted with securing its well-being.

Once again, we are moved to repeat our concern about the lack of a clear sense of direction from the Government on this matter. By now, a full and comprehensive statement on the oil spill should have been made to Parliament, outlining its impact and potential impact on people, the environment, natural life, Petrotrin, its employees and other relevant interests.

As of now, what has been the full cost of the oil spill disaster to taxpayers? Apart from the interim penalty of $20 million levied on Petrotrin by the Environment Management Authority, what is the State enterpriseís full liability in this matter? Who is to be held accountable, and how?

These are all burning questions still waiting for answers from the Minister of Energy.