Three former high-ranking officials from State-owned oil and gas company Petrotrin named in a newspaper report about unauthorised salary increases say the allegations levelled against them have left them traumatised.
Former Petrotrin presidents Kenneth Allum, Khalid Hassanali, and former vice presidents Keith Ramnath and Jamaludin Khan were named in a Sunday Express article claiming that Petrotrin was seeking to recover millions of dollars in unauthorised salary increases awarded retroactively to officials who worked in the company's top echelon.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Hassanali, Ramnath and Khan said all the transactions were above board. The men said their lawyers have been in discussion with Petrotrin on the matter since March. The last correspondence from their attorneys in July to meet for further discussions received no response from Petrotrin.
"This entire matter is engaging the attention of our attorneys and I will not breach the tenets of the judicial process," Khan said.
"My career started in 1974, more than four decades ago and I elected to stay the course with Petrotrin and its predecessors. It has been a privilege and honour to serve both the organisation and the State over this extended period. This public censure coming almost a year after my retirement in 2015 is regrettable and traumatic," he added. Khan said, "It is my hope that this matter will be resolved expeditiously and that the true and proper circumstances are accurately ventilated."
The Sunday Guardian contacted Hassanali and Ramnath to get their responses to the accusations.
Hassanali said the matter was "properly settled" more than a year ago.
"This public spectacle on a matter that was properly settled by the previous Petrotrin board more than a year ago is most regrettable. It follows my retirement in November 2015 after serving nationally and especially Petrotrin with a demonstrable track record over almost 40 years having held some 26 positions of increasing responsibility and multiple secondments," Hassanali said.
Ramnath said he was "shocked and saddened" by the allegations.
"I have to be very cautious how I respond to this because obviously this has legal ramifications. I mean we have attorneys Michael Quamina and Douglas Mendes who are in correspondence with Petrotrin and Camini Marajh, so I am very limited in what I can say but what I can say is that this whole thing has been a very emotional, shocking and traumatic experience for me. A year ago, I was confronted with suddenly having to leave Petrotrin and end my career for health reasons. That is not something that I planned for, it was not something that I wished for. The circumstances surrounding that is not something that I would wish upon anybody because my life has been irrevocably changed and not in a positive way," Ramnath said.
"So my departure from Petrotrin is not something that I wanted because I had worked in my tenure there to do the best that I could, to do what I was hired to do which was to try and bring about positive changes to the organisation, to lead a transformation effort along with the other executives and the president and the board," he said.
Attempts to contact Allum for comment proved futile.
The Sunday Guardian contacted a source knowledgeable about the situation to get responses to the concerns raised in the article that was published.
Among the major concerns raised was Hassanali receiving a bonus of over $900,000 in 2015 when Petrotrin was doing so badly.
According to the source this bonus was paid in 2015 after Hassanali's salary negotiation was settled, but the bonus was actually for 2012.
In that year, Petrotrin made a net profit of over $1 billion and every Petrotrin employee received profit sharing of over $70,000.
Hassanali was confirmed in the role of president effective May 1, 2012, after acting in the position for about four months.
He did not receive a salary increase for the promotion at that time but a written commitment was made to him that his compensation would be addressed.
Hassanali's and Allum's salaries were not addressed until 2015 and were made retroactive to 2012.
The Petrotrin board gave chairman Lindsay Gillette the authority to negotiate Hassanali's salary.
The salary increases received by Ramnath and Khan in 2015 were done to ensure equity of pay according to Petrotrin's compensation policy.
Why did the other two vice presidents Ramnath and Khan receive salary increases in 2015?
Petrotrin's compensation policy requires equity of pay for people holding similar positions. Before the increases, the other vice presidents were making as much as $150,000/month. Even after the salary increase, these two vice presidents Ramnath and Khan were making $125,000/month and still were the two lowest paid vice presidents even though they had more tenure at Petrotrin than the higher paid vice presidents. In the case of Ramnath, he was hired in 2012 as vice president, Human Resources, and had additional functions placed under him, including Security, Property Management, ICT and Supply Chain Management which is why his increase was retroactive to 2014.
According to the Express article, Energy Minister Nicole Olivierre is quoted as saying "the State-owned company is taking steps to recover unauthorised payments from its former executives."
Olivierre said the "problem of unauthorised payments" at Petrotrin was "self-reported" by the new board and she was "pleased" that the company was seeking to recover public funds.
Petrotrin confirmed that their attorneys are already engaged in the matter.