President Anthony Carmona is to be applauded for his effort to establish an environment of fact and expert opinion in response to Petrotrin’s disastrous oil spill. By convening a panel of experts under the aegis of The University of the West Indies (UWI), the President has demonstrated his interest in cutting through the climate of allegation and counter-allegation. Having been lobbied by the fisherfolk community to launch an investigation, President Carmona has clearly taken a first step. It now remains to be seen what use, if any, he will — or can — make of the expert input he has received.
Meanhile, Petrotrin’s dismissal of six employees over the weekend is unlikely to end the dispute in which the state petroleum company has been embroiled since the December 17 oil spill disaster. If anything, it could make matters worse given the consistent position of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union that accountability in this matter resides at the board and executive management level.
The fact that the dismissals are the result of an internal Petrotrin investigation would be cold comfort to a public that has been fed a stream of conflicting reports from the company, the union, residents and fishing interests. An independent investigation should be par for the course in a disaster such as this one. But so far, Petrotrin’s board and management has been doing all the running, with the Ministry of Energy as industry regulator playing second fiddle to the company.
Indeed, asked by the Sunday Express to comment on the dismissals on Saturday, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine seemed to take his cue from the company, saying that Petrotrin chairman Lindsay Gillette had kept him informed and that he was “advised that all procedures and protocols were followed as regards proper industrial relations practice”.
In announcing the dismissals on Saturday, Petrotrin president Khalid Hassanali disclosed that six other managers were also issued letters of investigation because “asset integrity concern” was a management issue. The issue that is sure to be raised with this is how high up the management chain should the responsibility for asset integrity go. Clearly, by exercising the authority to investigate managers lower down the chain, the company’s board and executive head are saying that responsibility does not reside at the very top.
This position is, of course, at odds with that of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union which is adamant in its position that the board and management have long been aware of Petrotrin’s problems related to asset integrity. A former minister of energy has also publicly stated that the Ministry of Energy has known about the problem of aging infrastructure for years.
As the sequel to the oil spill continues to claim scalps within a tense industrial relations environment, the public is still no closer to knowing the truth beneath the oil spill disaster and to gauging whether the response has been effective enough to stave off the future possibility of another such devastating disaster — or worse.
With the President’s intervention, a fresh element has come into play with the hope that this disaster will not be allowed to recede into oblivion.