Although Caroni (1975) Limited ceased operations 16 years ago, the full closure of the company is stalled because of court matters involving residential lots and bungalows. This was confirmed by board chairman Jerry Hospedales yesterday when he appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) as it examined the company’s accounts for 2010 to 2018.
Hospedales said the Caroni closure since 2003 had cost T&T approximately $10 billion, with a large chunk of costs connected to the development of agricultural and residential lots for former workers, plus costs for training and other issues arising from Voluntary Separation of Employment Package (VSEP) arrangements.
“From a financial perspective, I think (former workers) were fairly treated,” he said.
While 6,005 former workers have received agricultural lots, Hospedales said, 1,200 workers have not yet come forward, despite extensive advertising, to get lots.
He also said 7,542 residential lots had been delivered to former workers, but the delivery of 4,351 lots had been delayed due to litigation involving the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBDC) which is handling lot development.
The other court matter involves some of the 224 Caroni bungalows. Employees were allowed to buy the houses, valued between $400,000 and $1.5 million, with a discount based on their length of service. For example, workers with 20 years’ service could get a 20 per cent discount. However, some workers challenged the pricing formula in court and their union said that was not what they had contemplated.
About 142 of the bungalows are still occupied by workers and others by tenants and state agencies. The company is paying for the electricity supply.
Hospedales said no one “was taking responsibility” for the bungalows and he would like to see them shifted to Government and the regional corporation eventually.
Because of the ongoing court matters, Hospedales was unable to say exactly when Caroni (1975) Limited would be liquidated. The matter was being addressed “five or six years ago,” he said and he could only say that by year-end the board would evaluate the situation and give Government options to determine if Caroni can finally enter liquidation and shift responsibilities to some other state agency.
Hospedales said a “great deal” still had to be done regarding residential lots, bungalows and other matters
To date, he said, there were about 10,000 Caroni pensioners with a minimum pension of $650 monthly.
The Government is funding the pension to a total of $369 million. Work is ongoing to have pensioners deal directly with Guardian Life and Clico rather than Caroni’s Couva office.
Hospedales said the $400 million European Union grant which workers had claimed in recent years was actually meant for the Government. He said some workers “campaigned” for the funds and got them.
He also confirmed that no efforts had been made to pursue recovery of four tractors, harvesters and other large equipment which went missing the weekend after Caroni closed in 2003. An auctioneer is being engaged to sell assets valued at $13 million.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Michelle Durham-Ramkissoon said the Caroni wind-up was unique due to the industrial relations issues involved and it demonstrated the length of time such matters could be prolonged by the courts. Government has no control over the duration of these matters.
She said with a number of companies, including Petrotrin, being wound up, conversations are on-going about guidelines for companies whose operations have ended.