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 Khan said the RFP will be withdrawn.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.
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.
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