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Firm praises PNM in TV ads

Published: 
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Khan denies close links to AV Drilling but...
Senator Allyson Baksh during a Joint Select Committee meeting on State enterprises earlier this year. She is the daughter of Nazim Baksh, owner of AV Drilling Workover Ltd, which is now at the centre of a Petrotrin audit into overpayment for oil not produced.

The owner of A&V Drilling Workover Limited, Nazim Haniff Baksh, is yet to make any public statement on a Petrotrin internal audit report that his company is linked to close to TT$100 million in overpayments from the state-owned company for "fake oil."

Several attempts to contact Baksh were unsuccessful yesterday. An employee of his Penal-based company said he was out the country and she was not sure when he would be back.

On Monday, Energy Minister Franklin Khan distanced the People's National Movement from A&V Drilling in the wake of the "fake oil" scandal. But Baksh is reported to be a good friend of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley. In fact, checks yesterday revealed Baksh invited Rowley as his guest to a prize-giving function for Indian entertainment programme Mastana Bahar in December 2012. Baksh’s company was at the time sponsoring the first prize for the preliminary and semi-finals of the show. Rowley, who was in Debe on a tour at the time, attended the show at the Rampersad Brothers Ranch in Penal.

For several months now, A&V Drilling has also been broadcasting a television advertisement which is aired on a crime show broadcast on the internet, praising the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

The male voice on the ad says: “We salute and congratulate the leader of the PNM the Honourable Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Cabinet for the vision and leadership they have demonstrated in managing the affairs of Trinidad and Tobago. From Nazim Baksh of AV Drilling.”

The ad ends with a footnote “this was a paid political announcement.” In the background of the ad are images of supporters waving PNM flags and of Rowley shaking the hands of supporters.

On May 15, 2017, Khan singled out A&V Drilling for special praise during the Senate debate on the Finance Variation of Appropriation Bill.

He said then: “I want to go on record and today praise one company that has done tremendously well on a programme called the Incremental Petroleum Service Contracts. It is a company called A&V Drilling based in Penal. They took the Catsil field about three years ago. It was farmed out to them by Petrotrin, making a 130 barrels of oil per day. You know what is A&V Drilling production in Catsil now?—4,000 barrels per day. And you know why it is 4,000 barrels a day? Because they have drilled 32 wells since they took over the field. “

Khan made no apologies for this at a press conference on the Petrotrin issue on Monday, saying at the time the company was reporting increases in their production and the system was working. But Khan could not say whether the PM and Baksh were friends, referring the question to Rowley. For his part, Khan said he was acquainted with Baksh, having himself worked in the energy sector, but said he would not call Baksh and himself (Khan) friends.

DAMNING REPORT

The Petrotrin internal audit pointed to discrepancies in the production for the period January to June 2017, when it said a review of production data for 18 fields in the Eastern district showed that "for the period January to June 2017, all of the fields except one had relatively constant production. This field showed a "huge" increase in production during this period from 60,034 barrels in January to 149,741 barrels in June, an increase of almost 150 per cent in six months."

The audit found there had been "fraudulent activity in the field, in that the operator in collusion with a Petrotrin employee has been over stating the field's production for at least six months." The audit spoke to "wilful misconduct" on the part of the employee.

Details of the report were revealed by UNC Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a party congress in Couva on Monday. She alleged that the operator was a PNM financier and had close ties with senior Cabinet officials.

But Khan denied A&V Drilling was a financier of the PNM, saying: I don’t know what is a financier of the PNM. The PNM raises funds when it has to fight an election and several people come into that.”

He said it would be impossible for the party to have received money and he not know of it. However, he revealed that Baksh’s daughter Allyson is a PNM senator. He also admitted that the employee in question was the PNM's candidate for Siparia in the 2015 general election.

Rumours were rife yesterday that the employee fingered in the report had tendered his resignation.

But Petrotrin officials denied this. They also said they want to ensure proper process is followed “because it is always about fairness even while conducting a proper investigation.”