Acknowledging the insults and bashing levelled at him for the impending closure of the Petrotrin Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says he is prepared to sacrifice his parliamentary career in order to save T&T from sinking deeper into debt.
Speaking at a People’s National Movement meeting at the Marabella Community Facility on Tuesday night, Rowley said that threats and insults were not going to force Government to change the decision to end Petrotrin’s refining and marketing operations. However, he said if the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) or anyone has a better idea to save the company, Government was open to discussions.
Tuesday night’s meeting, in the heart of a community which will be deeply affected by the move, was meant to explain Government’s reasoning for the refinery closure. Rowley told those cramped into the small auditorium that Petrotrin could have been previously fixed, but past politicians failed to take action because they were afraid of losing their parliamentary positions.
“I am prepared to sacrifice my parliamentary and my political future doing what is right for the children of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley told the gathering.
“And as for those who are calling for elections, elections will come and you the caller, you only have one vote. Everybody else has a vote in this country and at that time you (citizens) will determine whether you elected a government that has the strength of character and the moral fortitude to do what has to be done to give Trinidad and Tobago a better chance.”
The PM said if nothing is done at the state-owned oil company, the country’s credit rating will be downgraded again by international rating agencies, meaning the country will face high-interest rates when borrowing in the future. In certain cases, some banks will not lend to T&T, he said. Government, the PM said, was doing what it had to do in order to save the country and only asks T&T to stand with the “sensible decision” they have made. He said all that is being done is converting a money-losing company into a profitable business.
Cognisant of the social impact the refinery shutdown will bring, Rowley assured that no worker would end up in the “garbage bin,” as they will be sent home with attractive separation packages. He said it is also Government’s intention to make Petrotrin land available to them through the Public Sector Housing Programme. Taxpayers will also pay more so that a special social system can be introduced to address issues with the terminated workers’ children. He said those who were making long shouts of disapproval were either labour representatives, politicians or both.
“Every single one of the voices out front opposing this very sensible decision has a connection to a political party. The OWTU has a political party, MSJ. Watson Duke is a politician in Tobago, he is the minority leader. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, she is working in a tomb somewhere … She appeared like an aberration. Then, of course, the Opposition leader is a politician,” he said.
“These are the four quarters from which this unreasonable opposition is coming. You will never know when they’re talking like a union or when they’re talking like politicians. The PNM is the only political organisation that is not convicted and represents all the interests of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Breaking down the decision, he likened the refinery to an old car which constantly breaks down. He said the most that can be done is to sell it or leave it to rot. Contrary to what has been suggested, he said he does not know anyone in this country who is interested in the refinery, but said if there is one he would have to look carefully at them because the refinery isn’t an easy asset to own. Now that it is being taken offline, he said Government now has to look at what options are available to have the asset work in the favour of citizens.
“All this stupidness that the Government has their friends to give it to and the race talk about one per cent. Every time you hear that one per cent story it runs against our national anthem where every creed and race is supposed to find an equal place. It’s race talk.”