PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley Thursday said he hoped the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN, would engage “independent investigators” to probe allegations made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar that a financier of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) had defrauded the company of an estimated TT$100 million over the past six months.
Rowley, speaking at a news conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting, dismissed suggestions that he was closely aligned to the individual in question ‘I don’t know what possible involvement I would have in this matter.
“What does this have to do with me,” he told reporters, saying that while he was not condemning the Opposition Leader for seeking to make political mileage of the situation dubbed here as “fake oil”, it was important that every Trinidad and Tobago national fully understand what is alleged to have taken place in a company that is very important to the financial stability of the country.
He said that as the political leader of the PNM he would have “great difficulty if I tell any candidate I don’t want to be with you,” in reference to photographs circulating here showing Rowley and the individual, who was a candidate in the 2015 general election.
Rowley told reporters that on August 8, PETROTRIN had informed the government of a preliminary finding regarding the inconsistencies in the volumes reported from its exploration and production fields making it quite clear that further investigations were still ongoing.
He said that another preliminary report was submitted on August 17 with the same advice for further investigations.
Rowley said even before the final report was submitted to the government, the Opposition Leader sought to “burst a mark” and trying to make a link between the government and the oil company involved in the alleged acts of fraud.
“So for the country’s peace and good order, I hope the board will take the appropriate decision and appoint an independent investigation team,” he said, noting further that in order to prevent any further political implication in the matter that it is sent to the Fraud Squad for investigation.
“…by all means we expect it to go to the Fraud Squad,” he said, noting that PETROTRIN nor the government could not have gone to the police armed only with preliminary reports.
He warned that his administration was not prepared to shield anyone involved in any corrupt practice adding “it matters not who you are, you are not to expect any protection from this government”.
Earlier this week, PETROTRIN, announced that it had launched an investigation into the reports of inconsistencies in the volumes reported from its exploration and production fields.
“PETROTRIN confirms that investigations are in progress with respect to reports of inconsistencies in the volumes reported from our Exploration and Production fields and that reported as received at our Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. These investigations are focused on the volumes for fiscal 2017 and the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries has been informed,” the company said in a brief statement.
Persad Bissessar addressing a meeting of her United National Congress (UNC) in in Couva in central Trinidad on Sunday, said that the company had overstated the amount of oil it was selling to PETROTRIN.
She said that in July, the company discovered there was a disparity in the quantity of oil it was purchasing from operators in the field and what was being received at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. The internal audit department was asked to investigate.
Persad Bissessar told supporters that the audit team discovered that the discrepancy had been occurring since October 2016, and that PETROTRIN discovered that the difference in the figures emanated from one particular field, which has been under the control of the same operator since 2009.
“I want to challenge the Prime Minister today to tell the country that he did not know this was going on at PETROTRIN. I want to challenge the Minister of Energy to tell the country today that he did not know this was going on at PETROTRIN,” she said, questioning the dismissal of the last board.
In the statement, PETROTRIN said its production fields are predominantly in south Trinidad and these include its own and third party operations.
“Current production from both our land and marine acreage is approximately 44,500 barrels of oil per day year to date and represents more than half of local crude oil production in Trinidad and Tobago.
PETROTRIN remains committed to managing the energy resources entrusted to us by the national community in the best interest of all stakeholders,” the company said in the statement. – CMC