Urgent action needed, not blame

The dire circumstances into which thousands of residents of south Trinidad have been thrown as a result of Petrotrin’s oil spills demand an urgent and co-ordinated response from all interests involved and affected. At the very least, these would include Petrotrin’s management and staff, the ministries of Energy, the Environment and Health, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the Water and Sewerage Authority and the Institute of Marine Affairs.
This is not a time for Petrotrin or the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) to engage in a blame game or tit-for-tat. There is time enough for that but not before securing the well-being of the residents as a first priority, followed by an independent investigation into the cause of these damaging and dangerous oil spills.
In addressing the issue on Saturday, Petrotrin’s management chose to go on the defensive by focusing on the nature of the problem for which it does not rule out sabotage as a possible cause.
Stung by the loaded suggestion, with its likely implication of worker involvement, the OWTU has counter-charged the company with dangerous cost-cutting that has left its installations exposed to the risk of theft, especially from scrap iron thieves.
Indeed, even in invoking the spectre of sabotage, Petrotrin’s president Khalid Hassanali admitted that the company’s pipelines in several areas in Point Fortin were recently taken for use as scrap iron. In the context, and in the absence of an independent investigation, Petrotrin’s suggestion of sabotage is premature and unwarranted.
We note the Prime Minister’s statement that an investigation is underway by Petrotrin’s management. However, this situation demands an independent investigation. On the chance that the oil spills have their origin in faulty policy or operations, the country will not be well served by having the company investigate itself.
Given the multiplicity of interests affected, we are surprised that the Government has not moved swiftly to establish a multi-disciplinary task force to tackle the problem with urgency. It is not enough for the EMA to say that it has “strongly advised” Petrotrin to “secure and temporarily evacuate the impacted area, especially young children, babies and pregnant mothers”. The EMA has not indicated whether evacuation should be mandatory nor do we know the role that is being played by the ODPM. Our reporters in the field have met elderly persons who have refused to move and residents who say they are being left to cope on their own or are unhappy with the level of support from Petrotrin. This is a time for the MPs for the affected areas to be out front in speaking up on their constituents’ behalf.
The situation calls for critical impact assessments on the environment, human health, water courses, community livelihood and natural life, for starters.
Christmas celebrations ought not to distract those with the responsibility from doing their job. For those affected, time is of the essence and won’t wait for some more convenient day.
Duty calls. It also calls for co-operation and a prompt response from all parties, not finger-pointing and blaming.
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