PM defends AG and Energy Minister

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley this morn­ing con­firmed that he ex­pects to get a new op­er­a­tor for the moth-balled Pointe-a-Pierre re­fin­ery.

"We ex­pect to have it leased in a mat­ter of months," he told The Morn­ing Brew host Hema Ramkissoon this morn­ing dur­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view on the econ­o­my and Gov­ern­ment plans go­ing for­ward.

"We are go­ing out to find out that the in­ter­na­tion­al mar­ket wants."

Row­ley's state­ment comes af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive at the re­for­mat­ted Pointe-a-Pierre re­fin­ery is­sued a re­quest for pro­pos­al (RFP). En­er­gy Min­is­ter Franklin Khan sub­se­quent­ly walked back the pro­pos­al, claim­ing said the sale of Paris Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed was "in­ad­ver­tent­ly is­sued" by the com­pa­ny's chair­man Wil­fred Es­pinet in the RFP. Khan said the RFP will be with­drawn.

How­ev­er, Row­ley con­firmed to­day that Gov­ern­ment is test­ing the mar­ket and ad­ver­tis­ing the re­fin­ery for lease.

He said: "It is pre­ma­ture to write an ar­ti­cle now about it go­ing for sale. We have gone out, invit­ing in­ter­est­ed par­ties. We have to wait and see, no need to jump out prospect­ing. We will treat with se­ri­ous of­fers.

"We have not got­ten out of Petrotrin, we have not got­ten out of the oil busi­ness. We are out of the re­fin­ery busi­ness," he said.

Row­ley said he is not sure of the cur­rent val­ue of Paria and is al­so not sure what is a good cri­te­ria for lease and al­so de­fend­ed Khan's re­trac­tion of the RFP.

"The line min­is­ter did noth­ing that was sur­pris­ing," he said. "We were los­ing mon­ey on every bar­rel. The bot­tom line is we are im­port­ing 100,000 bar­rels a day and lose be­tween US$3-7 a day."

Ac­cord­ing to the Prime Min­is­ter, it cost some $2.4 bill to pay off Petrotrin work­ers. He as­sured that they "have a lit­tle cush­ion go­ing for­ward."

He com­pared the shut­ting down of Petrotrin to get­ting sick and go­ing to a doc­tor. While that vis­it may in­clude an in­jec­tion or bad-tast­ing med­i­cine, it will get bet­ter, he said.

Row­ley al­so de­fend­ed Gov­ern­ment's mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar rental of a build­ing linked to At­tor­ney Gen­er­al, Faris Al-Rawi.

"We were nev­er against per­sons pro­vid­ing rentals to the State," he said, adding that while Gov­ern­ment had state spaces, it some­times had to utilise rentals to house Gov­ern­ment of­fices.

"That had gone on for quite some time. There have been cor­rupt prac­tices from time to time," he said.

Row­ley com­ment­ing on the rental of One Alexan­dra Place by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Patrick Man­ning, which was in­her­it­ed by the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress (UNC), said: "The out­fit­ting of that build­ing moved from $23 mil­lion to $71 mil­lion. That is cor­rup­tion."

He said that once the per­son linked to the prop­er­ty re­cus­es him­self from the ne­go­ti­a­tions, there is no cor­rup­tion.

"I en­sured he wasn't even in the room," Row­ley said.

He al­so de­fend­ed Gov­ern­ment's lease of a build­ing in Fyz­abad owned by the En­er­gy Min­is­ter's wife for the Chil­dren's Court, in­sist­ing that be­ing linked to the Peo­ple's Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) does not ex­clude any­one from do­ing busi­ness with the gov­ern­ment.

"When it was ap­proved, we were sat­is­fied it was val­ue for mon­ey," he said.

Venezuela

Row­ley said Gov­ern­ment is main­tain­ing its neu­tral stance in the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Venezuela. He de­fend­ed the par­tic­i­pa­tion of For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Den­nis Moses in an in-video con­fer­ence call with Venezuela's Juan Guai­do, the man who is chal­leng­ing the rule of Nico­las Maduro and has the back­ing of the Unit­ed States, parts of Eu­rope and Cana­da.

While for the most part, Cari­com na­tions main­tained a neu­tral stance, five Cari­com na­tions re­cent­ly met with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

"Cari­com's very first po­si­tion is that we would use our good of­fices to en­cour­age the Venezue­lans to talk their prob­lems through and out," he said. "Our par­tic­i­pa­tion in any as­pect of di­a­logue is quite con­sis­tent."

Moses at­tend­ed the meet­ing at the be­hest of Cana­da and that coun­try's po­si­tion is that "time for talk done," he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Row­ley, Cari­com took is­sue with that stance be­cause "it was force­ful ef­fect­ing of regime change. " How­ev­er, Cana­da even­tu­al­ly sought to speak with both par­ties and fa­cil­i­tat­ed the meet­ing that Moses at­tend­ed.

While Row­ley re­fused to com­ment on the five Cari­com part­ners who broke ranks to meet with Trump at his pri­vate Mar-a-Largo es­tate, he ex­pressed hope for a wider Cari­com meet­ing.

"Who knows maybe lat­er there would be a meet­ing at Prime Min­is­ters' lev­el of Cari­com, not one or two peo­ple go­ing off on a week­end jaunt," he said.

State of the Ju­di­cia­ry

Row­ley is re­serv­ing com­ment on is­sues in the Ju­di­cia­ry but de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as "quite trou­ble­some"

"Com­ments com­ing from me, while it may be fac­tu­al, might be un­help­ful in a sit­u­a­tion that is quite trou­ble­some. I am con­cerned about some peo­ple's per­spec­tive of the Ju­di­cia­ry and I will have more to say about that in the very near fu­ture," he said.

The Ju­di­cia­ry is fac­ing a lack of con­fi­dence over sev­er­al mis­steps, in­clud­ing ques­tions about Chief Jus­tice Ivor Archie us­ing his of­fice to help friends ac­cess pub­lic hous­ing, the ap­point­ment of Mar­cia Ay­ers-Cae­sar to the High Court, op­po­si­tion to her ap­point­ment and her res­ig­na­tion just two weeks lat­er. The ap­point­ment of Ap­peal Court Judge Char­maine Pem­ber­ton to the Ju­di­cial and Le­gal Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (JLSC) al­so met with op­po­si­tion and Pres­i­dent Paula-Mae Weekes ad­mit­ted there was an "er­ror" with her ap­point­ment.

To date, the of­fice of the Pres­i­dent and the Op­po­si­tion are butting heads over Pem­ber­ton's pos­si­ble re-ap­point­ment to the JLSC.

Row­ley said: "There are some peo­ple who be­lieve the Ju­di­cia­ry is avail­able for their use and pur­pose. I am aware of what is hap­pen­ing and I am aware of the ob­jec­tive. I have kept my si­lence, I've passed on in­vi­ta­tions and I take care­ful note of the con­spir­a­cies" he said.

He promised to speak out on the is­sue "soon" and he claimed the cri­sis in the Ju­di­cia­ry is be­ing or­ches­trat­ed by peo­ple with an agen­da.

"One of these days, I'm go­ing to tell the peo­ple what the agen­da is, who is in­volved, what they are do­ing and the dan­ger they are pos­ing," he said and in­sist­ed that Gov­ern­ment will stay with­in its con­sti­tu­tion­al bor­ders with re­spect to the Ju­di­cia­ry.

To­ba­go

Row­ley said he ex­pects To­ba­go's fer­ry prob­lems to be solved by 2020.

He said the col­lapse of the San­dal's ho­tel deal meant that the steer­ing com­pa­ny es­tab­lished to over­see that in­vest­ment will be dis­solved.

He added that Gov­ern­ment is ac­tive­ly seek­ing a new op­er­a­tor for the Mag­dale­na Grand Ho­tel and his al­so look­ing to ex­pand agri­cul­ture lands on the is­land. In­vest­ments will come from plans for a new ma­ri­na and strength­ened sup­ply of LNG, he said.

Reporter: Renuka Singh

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