PM Defends Economic Policies

Dr Keith Rowley addresses the gathering at the PNM Sports and Family Day on Sunday, Aug 12, 2018. (Photo credit: Dr. Rowley's facebook page)

Says PETROTRIN Restructuring to go Ahead Despite Opposition

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley defended the policies of his administration since it came to office in September 2015, saying the oil-rich twin island republic had been able to stay out of the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Addressing the gathering at the People’s National Movement (PNM) Sports and Family Day in Central Trinidad on Sunday, Rowley also said that plans to go ahead with the restructuring of the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN, would continue despite the opposition coming from the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU).

Rowley said that the company, which has in the past recorded billions of dollars in losses, must be restructured and sought to assure workers that they would not be neglected but in fact be offered equity in the new company.

“At this point in the country’s history what has to be done has to be done and what has to be done is that PETROTRIN has to be restructured,” he said.

“We are not engaging in any ole talk about who earns what at PETROTRIN. We are engaging in looking after the interests of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago and so far as PETRORIN is concerned we are engaging in ensuring that whatever the country has to offer in the hydrocarbon sector under PETROTRIN, the interests of the workers and the families of PETROTRIN are taken care of. That is not taken care of by high paid people walking around the country trying to create mayhem.”

Rowley told the party supporters that he had invited OWTU president general Anel Roget for talks but that the trade unionist had turned down the invitation.

“He refused to speak to me as Prime Minister. He preferred to stand on the pavement and shout and I understand he is coming to kneel down outside the Prime Minister’s residence to march,” he said.

Last week, Roget said that PETROTRIN workers would assemble outside the official residence of the Prime Minister on August 26 “to kneel down and pray.

“We are going to pray for PETROTRIN, for the jobs of the workers. We are going to pray for Trinidad and Tobago. We going to pray for God to give the correct people to run PETROTRIN. We are going to pray for the right thing to happen.

“Sunday, August 26 put your house in order, not a working day, nobody could discipline you. You have the power in your hands use it. All PETROTRIN workers, Sunday, August 26, at 3 pm, travel to Port-of-Spain, maxi, taxi, bicycle, scooter, bus, CRV, donkey, horse whatever transport you use, find yourself at La Fantasie at the residence of the Prime Minister,” Roget said.

He warned that if the present PETROTRIN chairman, Wilfred Espinet, is not removed he would be making an announcement on the way forward.

“It is time for us to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Stand up and fight because nobody will fight for you. Come out in your blue,” Roget said, adding that PETROTRIN’s board of directors was focused on sending workers home and had no plan to rescue the company which is in crisis.

Roget said that a comprehensive financial audit report for last year’s financial year, put PETROTRIN’s total operating cost at TT$20.8 billion (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) while the salary and benefits cost was at TT$2.3 billion which worked out to 11 per cent of the operating cost.”

But Prime Minister Rowley said he would not be threatened by Roget adding “I want to say to the leader of the OWTU I have no quarrel with you but get your facts straight. The house in St Ann’s is not my house.”

Prime Minister Rowley recalled that when an offer was made to Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) workers to take certain advantages, they were encouraged not to do so.

“I want to tell PETROTRIN workers when the steel industry collapsed around the world and our steel industry owners in Trinidad and Tobago wanted to talk to the workers there were those who were telling them don’t talk to the owners. The owners then closed the doors and left a liquidator in charge,” he said, urging the workers at the oil company to distinguish between a trade union and a political party.

Rowley also addressed a threat by the president of the Public Service Association (PSA), Watson Duke, who is demanding that public servants be paid TT$15,000 a month each as part of settlement outstanding monies owed to them.

“Let me not talk to Watson Duke at all. Let me talk to the thousands of public servants who look for their monthly pay roll from the government every month. This is a government facing the difficulty we have faced…There has never been a month you have not been paid.”

Rowley also said that the National Investment Fund (NIF) which had been criticised by many, was not functional and had been oversubscribed by 50 per cent.

Rowley maintained that under his administration the country’s economic fortunes were changing and maintained that he had no intention of going to the Washington-based financial institution for assistance.

Last Friday, the Cabinet met in a retreat and a government statement issued then said that the ministers discussed programmes and plans for the upcoming budget.

In his Mid-year Budget Review in Parliament in May, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said after a “long and discouraging period of economic decline, we are now witnessing a welcome upturn”, in the local economy.

“Early estimates are indicative of a growth forecast of 2.0 per cent in 2018 and 2.2 per cent in 2019, rising to 2.5 per cent in 2020,” he added. – CMC