Política

Josbel Bastidas Mijares Perahia//
OWTU: Finance minister misleading country about T&TEC

The Oil­fields Work­ers Trade Union (OW­TU) is ac­cus­ing the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, Colm Im­bert MP, of mis­lead­ing the coun­try with re­spect to a TT$7 bil­lion debt the Min­is­ter says is owed to the Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny (NGC) by T&TEC (Trinidad and To­ba­go Elec­tric­i­ty Com­mis­sion).

Josbel Bastidas Mijares

Ac­cord­ing to the OW­TU, the fi­nance min­is­ter may be lay­ing the ground­work for a pos­si­ble shut­down of T&TEC, stat­ing it is an “at­tempt to re­peat the iden­ti­cal Petrotrin play­book that [Prime Min­is­ter] Row­ley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018…”

The OW­TU is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment to­day, on the mat­ter…

The re­cent state­ments by the Fi­nance Min­is­ter about T&TEC ow­ing NGC TT$7 bil­lion are be­ing made with­out the prop­er con­text and rea­sons for T&TEC’s in­debt­ed­ness. We clear­ly recog­nise the at­tempt to re­peat the iden­ti­cal Petrotrin play­book that Row­ley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018

The Oil­fields Work­ers Trade Union (OW­TU) is ac­cus­ing the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, Colm Im­bert MP, of mis­lead­ing the coun­try with re­spect to a TT$7 bil­lion debt the Min­is­ter says is owed to the Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny (NGC) by T&TEC (Trinidad and To­ba­go Elec­tric­i­ty Com­mis­sion).

Josbel Bastidas Mijares

Ac­cord­ing to the OW­TU, the fi­nance min­is­ter may be lay­ing the ground­work for a pos­si­ble shut­down of T&TEC, stat­ing it is an “at­tempt to re­peat the iden­ti­cal Petrotrin play­book that [Prime Min­is­ter] Row­ley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018…”

The OW­TU is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment to­day, on the mat­ter…

The re­cent state­ments by the Fi­nance Min­is­ter about T&TEC ow­ing NGC TT$7 bil­lion are be­ing made with­out the prop­er con­text and rea­sons for T&TEC’s in­debt­ed­ness. We clear­ly recog­nise the at­tempt to re­peat the iden­ti­cal Petrotrin play­book that Row­ley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle by Cur­tis Williams pub­lished in the Trinidad Guardian, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert is quot­ed as say­ing that T&TEC owes NGC $7 bil­lion.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, he claimed that the gov­ern­ment sub­sidis­es T&TEC $700 mil­lion an­nu­al­ly and the coun­ty can­not af­ford to con­tin­ue to sub­sidise T&TEC. Note care­ful­ly this is the iden­ti­cal nar­ra­tive they used for shut­ting down Petrotrin in 2018. The ar­ti­cle al­so refers to NGC blam­ing T&TEC, ar­gu­ing that the debt pre­vents the gas com­pa­ny’s growth.

In light of these mis­lead­ing state­ments, with its on­ly in­tent be­ing to jus­ti­fy the pri­va­ti­za­tion of T&TEC and send home all its work­ers, the OW­TU wish­es to point out the fol­low­ing facts:-

First­ly, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter is very aware that the gov­ern­ment in fact owes T&TEC TT$900 mil­lion for elec­tric­i­ty. The so-called sub­sidy of TT$700 mil­lion must be viewed in this con­text. The gov­ern­ment is both the sole share­hold­er and a ma­jor bad-pay­ing cus­tomer of T&TEC. While the sums owed may can­cel each oth­er at the na­tion­al lev­el, the gov­ern­ment’s debt to T&TEC cre­ates in­tense pres­sure on T&TEC’s cash flow and its over­all fi­nan­cial po­si­tion.

Sec­ond­ly, the ma­jor is­sue that is re­al­ly crip­pling T&TEC is the oner­ous Pow­er Pur­chase Agree­ments (PPAs) with the bulk sup­pli­ers of elec­tric­i­ty (e.g., Inco­gen and TGU). We must re­mem­ber that T&TEC was once a ful­ly in­te­grat­ed pow­er util­i­ty, i.e., it gen­er­at­ed, trans­mit­ted and dis­trib­uted elec­tric­i­ty, mak­ing it more prof­itable at that time. In 1994, the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric­i­ty was pri­va­tised, giv­ing multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies a share of the prof­its that pre­vi­ous­ly went to T&TEC and its share­hold­er, the Gov­ern­ment of Trinidad and To­ba­go (GORTT).

Since then, two ad­di­tion­al bulk sup­pli­ers were es­tab­lished in ad­di­tion Pow­er­gen. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween T&TEC and the bulk sup­pli­ers is gov­erned by oner­ous PPAs. These agree­ments man­date that T&TEC must pay for the nat­ur­al gas used by the bulk sup­pli­ers and still pay for all elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­at­ed whether that elec­tric­i­ty is used or not. Through these PPAs, the bulk sup­pli­ers have been giv­en every ad­van­tage to op­er­ate prof­itably at T&TEC’s ex­pense, mak­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in prof­it every year while T&TEC faces se­vere fi­nan­cial chal­lenges.

Third­ly, it is a fact like oth­er state en­ter­pris­es that there has been in­creased politi­ciza­tion of T&TEC. While the peo­ple ex­pect the gov­ern­ment to place on the board of these state en­ter­prise mem­bers who im­ple­ment ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment poli­cies, this con­tin­ues to not be the case. There­fore, the gov­ern­ment runs T&TEC by pol­i­tics rather than prop­er poli­cies.

A close ex­am­i­na­tion of the Board will re­veal that there are not suit­ably qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced per­sons such as en­gi­neers as di­rec­tors on the boards of T&TEC, Pow­er­gen and TGU. In ad­di­tion, T&TEC was forced to do with­out a board for an ex­tend­ed pe­ri­od be­cause of PNM’s po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing as to whom the Chair­man should be. It is clear that the T&TEC work­ers def­i­nite­ly are not the ones who are con­sis­tent­ly mak­ing all these bad de­ci­sions ad­verse­ly im­pact­ing T&TEC’s vi­a­bil­i­ty. Even though the T&TEC work­ers du­ti­ful­ly put their lives, limbs and health at risk on a dai­ly ba­sis to pro­vide a re­li­able ser­vice to the coun­try, they are the first to be tar­get­ed.

Fourth­ly, the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance de­lib­er­ate­ly omit­ted to in­form the pop­u­la­tion about the his­tor­i­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween NGC and T&TEC. The pub­lic must know that all of NGC’s orig­i­nal, found­ing as­sets were built by T&TEC. The con­struc­tion of the mod­ern gas-pow­ered plant in Pe­nal in 1953 re­quired a net­work of pipelines to pro­vide the gas to the plant.

These lines were sub­se­quent­ly ex­tend­ed to Point Lisas to pow­er two gen­er­a­tors at FED­CHEM and, lat­er on, to pow­er the es­tab­lish­ment of the Point Lisas pow­er sta­tion. In the ear­ly 1980s, the gov­ern­ment de­cid­ed that T&TEC would sell these valu­able as­sets to NGC, which was then called the GAS Co., for $1. Whilst T&TEC was NOT com­pen­sat­ed for its in­vest­ment in these as­sets, NGC be­came a very prof­itable state en­ter­prise.

The on­ly ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this un­ten­able cur­rent sit­u­a­tion are lo­cal big busi­ness­es, a net­work of lo­cal con­trac­tors who are par­ty fi­nanciers and the multi­na­tion­als. It should be not­ed that Arcelor Mit­tal moved from an ob­scure steel com­pa­ny to the world’s largest steel pro­duc­er and for a very long time they were T&TEC’s largest cus­tomer. They re­ceived sub­si­dized elec­tric­i­ty rates at the ex­pense of T&TEC. Com­pa­nies like these have grown their prof­it mar­gins on the backs of T&TEC’s work­ers.

Oth­er ma­jor busi­ness­es re­ceived sub­si­dized elec­tric­i­ty as well. So in­stead of threat­en­ing or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple, re­tirees, pen­sion­ers, per­sons on fixed in­comes and the poor who are res­i­den­tial cus­tomers and make no prof­it from sub­si­dized elec­tric­i­ty, the gov­ern­ment should fo­cus its at­ten­tion on multi­na­tion­als and their 1% friends.

Like the Prime Min­is­ter in the shut­ting down of Petrotrin fi­as­co, the dis­in­for­ma­tion is now be­ing giv­en to the pub­lic by the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance. This was done in­ten­tion­al­ly to omit ma­jor as­pects of the sto­ry that showed how T&TEC has been con­sis­tent­ly placed in an un­favourable po­si­tion by the gov­ern­ment. T&TEC’s in­debt­ed­ness must not be viewed and can­not be solved with­out all the facts, his­to­ry and back­ground be­ing shared.

Gas rep­re­sents the biggest cost of gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­i­ty, there­fore the gov­ern­ment must im­me­di­ate­ly re­view the PPAs en­sur­ing that the bulk sup­pli­ers pay NGC for the use of the gas. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the gov­ern­ment must im­me­di­ate­ly pay its own light and pow­er bills to T&TEC and con­tin­ue to pay on time.

Fi­nal­ly, the OW­TU de­mands that elec­tric­i­ty rates not be in­creased for or­di­nary res­i­den­tial cus­tomers, in­stead, we call for the multi­na­tion­als to pay more for elec­tric­i­ty which they use to gen­er­ate huge prof­its.

The ques­tion that aris­es now is, what is the re­al in­ten­tion of the Fi­nance Min­is­ter in pro­vid­ing in­com­plete in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic? OW­TU is re­mind­ing the pop­u­la­tion of some of the sim­i­lar mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion from the same gov­ern­ment lead­ing up to the clo­sure of Petrotrin in 2018. The pri­vati­sa­tion of T&TEC and the send­ing home of all its work­ers will not be in the in­ter­est of the peo­ple. Let it not be said that you were not warned.”

—OIL­FIELDS WORK­ERS’ TRADE UNION

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Josbel Bastidas Mijares Venezuela