Is there a shortage of fuel? Will there be an increase in the price of fuel?
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar raised these questions at the United National Congress Monday night meeting in Fyzabad based on a document left in her mailbox. The letter by chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited Wilfred Espinet to Energy Minister Franklin Khan was about a monthly shortfall of US$20 million to purchase refined fuel to supply the country.
Paria Fuel Trading, one of the four companies which replaced Petrotrin, was established to buy fuel on the international market for sale to NP and Unipet. Persad-Bissessar said the company is in serious financial trouble
"This poses a significant threat to the supply of fuel to the nation," she warned
The UNC leader also accused the PNM administration of causing National Gas Company's financial woes. She read from a Trinidad Petroleum letter dated June 7 before a large crowd of supporters at Fyzabad Secondary School and declared: "What this letter tells us is that we are in for some serious trouble with respect to the supply of fuel."
In the letter, Espinet lists some of the key immediate risks, including the ongoing shortfall of US$20 million a month to purchase refined fuels. Persad-Bissessar described this as "a structural problem that is going to result in a shortage of fuels unless corrected."
She added: "That is not losing money that is haemorrhaging money . . . Does this mean that they will increase the price of fuel at the pumps for you? Whatever it means, it is clear as day that Paria Fuel Trading, the company with the sole responsibility for importing this country's fuel—super, diesel, premium, kerosene and jet fuel—is in big trouble."
Persad-Bissessar said second immediate risk outlined in the letter is "the failure to implement ex-terminal pricing for imported fuel, despite the company and Minister of Energy having developed a formula since November 2018."
She claimed this was the reason for the rush in Parliament recently to pass amendments to the Petroleum Act and Petroleum Production Subsidy and Levy Act.
Winfred is saying that should have been done last year when Petrotrin was shut down and they started importing fuel, she said: "That has to be the height of negligence on the part of the Minister of Energy."
The Opposition Leader described the Petrotrin closure as the biggest economic tragedy in the country's history.
She said another problem highlighted by Espinet was the inability to secure two letters from the ministry and the Board of Inland Revenue to close the 2018 year-end audit and finalise long term financing. Requests for both these letters have been pursued daily for several months, she pointed out.
Persad-Bissessar said this means that Petrotrin cannot publish financial reports for 2018 because of outstanding issues regarding royalty payments to the Ministry and taxes owed.
She questioned the overall cost of refinancing Petrotrin's US$850 million bond debt and the shutting down of the energy company.
Persad-Bissessar said a UNC government would reconsolidate Petrotrin as a fully reintegrated company and kick start the refinery.
She said NGC is in serious trouble because of political interference and when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and National Security Minister Stuart Young went to Houston to meet with officials of major gas companies "they got totally outsmarted."
She said: "The end result is that the NGC now has to pay a lot more to buy the natural gas and, guess what, they have to sell at a lower price than they buying because the price they negotiated was too high. NGC now is in serious trouble."
This could be one of the reasons why Gerry Brooks resigned as chairman of the company, she suggested.
On the issue of there being no formal lease between the state and the family of Attorney General Al-Rawi for the multi-million dollar rental at 1 Alexandre Place, Persad-Bissessar referred to a document from the Commissioner of State Lands to the Commissioner of Valuations dated April 15, 2019, about the property. She said the land was leased for 199 years at an annual rental of one shilling for the purpose of erecting a single private dwelling house. By subsequent deed of assignments, the land was transferred to NJ Nahous Investments Limited. The PNM began renting the building known as 1 Alexandra Place on that land in 2009 and according to the 2019 draft lease, the proposed rental is $600,000 plus VAT.
She said the document from the Commissioner of State Lands shows that it was by letter dated February 9, 2017, the Nahous company requested a change of use for the premises from a single private dwelling house to commercial.
Persad-Bissessar wondered why there was no public outcry and outrage about the issue.
Reporter: Sascha Wilson