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Petrotrin: Making tough decisions

Monday, September 3, 2018

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s national address delivered the background to the decision to shut down the Petrotrin refinery and also showed Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union membership in no uncertain terms why the operation could not be sustained.

What is clear is that the union failed to take seriously Government’s intention to address this crisis and the longer-term threat to the economy.

If we thought the Government was facing tough decisions since coming into office in 2015, the PM’s address last evening showed us how high the mountain we need to climb is.

Last night was not a political address but a laying of the path that led to the ultimate decision, hard as it may seem to many, not just at Petrotrin but those connected in numerous ways.

Those who may have been unaware of the history now know the decision to form Petrotrin out of the multi-nationals was about saving thousands of jobs. That move in 1985 by the George Chambers administration was made at a time when we were flush with money. The 2018 reality is that not only will there be a price to pay for borrowing money, but the impact will be felt for generations.

What the present Government has done is to finally draw on expertise and consultation, an opportunity lost by the OWTU.

In modern business, consultation is a pre-requisite and timing is another crucial factor.

It has been clear for a long time that the business model under which Petrotrin ran the refinery had no long-term prospects given the changes in the energy sector.

Without the long view that the Chinese engage, we make plans that are too short-term and end up with a crisis. The crisis facing us is our inability to deliver a product at a price that makes money, and might we say a profit. That is the bottom-line reality.

We must repeat our earlier observation that the Petrotrin refinery story is a lesson not just for state-owned enterprises but every business across the Caribbean. While we worry about the impact of decisions, there is often worse to come by delaying critical decisions.

Hats off to the Government for taking the recommendations of the Petrotrin board and technical advisors consulted.

The reaction at this time may be mixed, but the potential for political fallout is minimal since the opposition had a chance to rectify this situation and failed to act.

The Prime Minister laid clear that the prospect of providing critical services for the broader population demanded that this situation is fixed once and for all.

We are, however, interested in how the OWTU will respond to the PM’s offer for them to take over the refinery. But if the union was not interested in a critical meeting at the Hyatt where the future of the company was unveiled, how can we expect them to have a plan to run it?


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