Unipet wants its own license to import fuel

Monday, December 9, 2019 - 09:15

Pri­vate­ly owned Unipet wants its own fu­el im­por­ta­tion li­cense, so it can by-pass the State-run Paria Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny.

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In a 38-page signed af­fi­davit re­ceived by Guardian Me­dia, Unipet’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Dex­ter Ri­ley, de­tailed the rea­sons for the re­quest.

Ri­ley said that if sup­ply was not re­stored by De­cem­ber 6, Unipet would suf­fer “ir­repara­ble harm” which would im­pact some 600 em­ploy­ees.

To date, all 24 Unipet fill­ing sta­tions re­mained closed and with­out sup­ply.

Unipet ser­viced 30 per cent of the mar­ket, while NP ser­viced the oth­er 70 per cent, how­ev­er with the re­quest­ed dead­line date al­ready passed, it means that the 24 Unipet sta­tions will re­main closed un­til the promised in­ter­ven­tion by act­ing Min­is­ter of En­er­gy, Colm Im­bert.

Un­til that in­ter­ven­tion, the mo­tor­ing pub­lic should brace for shut­tered Unipet sta­tions and longer lines at the NP ser­vice sta­tions.

He al­so al­leged that on­ly when Petrotrin closed down in 2018, that the Gov­ern­ment paid off the out­stand­ing “hun­dreds of mil­lions” owed to Unipet.

“A so­lu­tion to this dilem­ma can be for Unipet to have a li­cence from the min­is­ter to im­port fu­el for the pub­lic good in times when Paria can­not in­ten­tion­al­ly or un­in­ten­tion­al­ly sup­ply,” Ri­ley said.

Ri­ley al­so con­tends that it is ob­vi­ous that Paria gives pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to Na­tion­al Pe­tro­le­um, an­oth­er com­pa­ny owned by the State and Unipet’s on­ly com­peti­tor.

The Unipet CEO al­so said that it has com­mer­cial cus­tomers in the en­er­gy ex­plo­ration field and it can­not sup­ply to them be­cause it does not have a bunker­ing li­cence.

“NP has one,” Ri­ley said.

Ri­ley said when Unipet ap­plied for one, they were told that the Min­istry of En­er­gy was not is­su­ing bunker­ing li­cences.

“NP there­fore has the com­pet­i­tive edge,” he said.

“De­spite NP’s sub­stan­tial in­debt­ed­ness, sup­ply has nev­er been ter­mi­nat­ed. More­over NP is in re­ceipt of sub­stan­tial Grant’s from the GORTT (Gov­ern­ment of the Re­pub­lic of Trinidad and To­ba­go),” Ri­ley said.

Paria, Ri­ley said, op­er­ates a mo­nop­oly over the sale and dis­tri­b­u­tion of fu­el and there­fore had the ca­pac­i­ty to af­fect all con­sumers in T&T.

Ri­ley al­so said that Paria charges Unipet some $2,000 per hour in over­time when­ev­er Unipet has to re­ceive fu­el out­side of work­ing hours.

Ac­cord­ing to Ri­ley, Paria on­ly op­er­ates dur­ing “nor­mal work­ing hours” which are al­so the “in­ef­fi­cient op­er­at­ing hours of the gantry”.

Paria, ac­cord­ing to Ri­ley, changed the com­pa­ny’s cred­it terms in May 2019 and in­stead of pay­ment due on the 25th if every month, it was now due on the 10th day of every month and all cred­it was ex­pect­ed to be paid up, in­clud­ing the sub­sidy pay­ment, which would lat­er be paid back to Unipet.

The com­pa­ny is al­so cit­ing a Gov­ern­ment im­posed 200 per cent in­crease in tax­a­tion which “re­sult­ed in the near col­lapse of the pe­tro­le­um mar­ket in or around 2016”.

Ri­ley said that both NP and Unipet suf­fered loss­es af­ter that in­crease in tax­es, but NP has Gov­ern­men­tal sup­port and fi­nanc­ing.

The pri­vate com­pa­ny is al­so bound by an agree­ment to on­ly pur­chase liq­uid pe­tro­le­um fu­els from the re­fin­ery “or oth­er en­ti­ty ap­proved by the min­is­ter”.

“The sole en­ti­ty this far that has been ap­proved by the Ho­n­ourable Min­is­ter is Paria,” Ri­ley said.

Unipet’s 24 fill­ing sta­tions have been run­ning out of fu­el since Tues­day. As of Sat­ur­day, all sta­tions were shut down.

Unipet al­so sup­plies com­mer­cial en­er­gy com­pa­nies.

“Many of Unipet’s com­mer­cial cus­tomers want a guar­an­tee that Unipet will he able sup­ply prod­uct, it has been un­able to bid for con­tracts as it is un­able to pro­vide this guar­an­tee,” Ri­ley said.

Unipet has been forced to de­lay pay­ments to Paria Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny be­cause of the “per­sis­tent de­lays” by the Gov­ern­ment and the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance in pay­ing the gas sub­sidy.

Ri­ley said it was un­fair to ex­pect Unipet to look for a loan to pay off the mil­lions owed to Paria, es­pe­cial­ly as the State has “ha­bit­u­al­ly failed” to pay its sub­sidy on time.

Unipet’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Dex­ter Ri­ley, in a signed af­fi­davit which forms part of the pri­vate com­pa­ny’s law­suit, said that un­der Petrotrin and now un­der Paria, the pri­vate com­pa­ny nev­er re­ceived its sub­sidy pay­ment on time.

Ri­ley said that be­cause of all those fi­nan­cial hits, it be­came de­pen­dent on the pay­ment of the sub­sidy to pay for Pe­tro­le­um prod­ucts.

Paria chair­man New­man George is not dis­put­ing the mil­lions owed to Unipet by the State, but says “that has noth­ing to do with Paria.”

“I keep say­ing that Unipet must pay for prod­ucts re­ceived,” George told Guardian Me­dia.