THE Government is currently facing a US$100 million claim in the United States from the minority shareholder of the US$400 million Alutrint smelter plant—Venezuelan company Sural—as a consequence of the People’s Partnership administration’s decision to cancel the smelter plant, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday.
He was speaking at a news conference at his Charles Street, Port of Spain, office.
Rowley said the Government, which was heavily contracted on this smelter plant, cancelled the contract “with great fanfare, but failed to tell the population what the consequences of the cancellation of the plant were”.
Alutrint was a project in which the Government was majority shareholder and Sural, a Venezuelan company, was the minority shareholder, Rowley said.
He said the minority shareholder had always maintained its interest was prejudiced by the Government’s action.
“This office has been advised that the minority shareholder in the Alutrint plant ... is currently exercising its right under the contract to arbitration wherein it is making substantial claims against the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for its arbitrary cancellation of that contract. My information is that this arbitration is taking place in the United States and that the claims being made are well upwards of US$100 million, being prosecuted by high-quality lawyers of the minority shareholder.
“Quietly and secretly, the Attorney General, or whoever is acting for the Government, has picked up two or three lawyers ... and has sent them to represent our interest in the US. We as taxpayers, who will ultimately be facing the outcome of this arbitration, need to know urgently from the Government what is happening, where we are with respect to this minority shareholder who is making these claims against the Government,” Rowley said.
He said the Government was “very happy” to tell the population about a claim which had been made against the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) for a hotel project in Tobago, making the matter an election issue.
However, he said the same Government was now “silent as a grave against this US$100 million claim in a foreign court”.
“We are asking Government to tell the taxpayers what is happening with Alutrint, what liabilities we are exposed to, what are the claims being made against us, who is representing us and where the arbitration is at this point in time,” Rowley said.
He said he also wanted to ask Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar whether her visit to China will deal with the treatment of this country’s liabilities to the Chinese government for the loan on the smelter plant, a loan which had been put in force.
This country borrowed US$400 million from the Exim Bank of China for the La Brea smelter plant.
Rowley said the country was entitled to know whether claims are now being made or settlements being discussed and what are the terms and conditions of these settlements with respect to the Chinese loan.
“It is intolerable that we should sit here and allow the Government to handle these matters in secret ... opening the door for corrupt practice or prejudice our interest by taking action which we would not permit,” he said.
Rowley said on Friday the Minister of Public Utilities, in response to a question about the electrical power plant at Union Estate which was governed by a take-or-pay contract, revealed that Government was paying $43 million a month for power the country didn’t need.
“That is a direct consequence of the cancellation of the (smelter) project. So not only did we not get the outcome of the benefits of selling aluminium products, we are now having to pay that kind of money for something that we were contracted to take, but don’t need at this time—$43 million a month we have to pay as a result of a political decision. And the Government is silent about this.
“We cancelled the smelter and are now paying a cheque of umpteen millions a month and have hundreds of millions in liability because we dealt with it ... in a particular way that placed us in a position to lose, rather than to gain,” Rowley said.
Noting that there were environmental concerns about the smelter plant, Rowley said he would be going to Bahrain and Dubai next month. He said one of the things he would do is look at the smelter plants there and see what benefits were obtained by those countries.