Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley held a hastily-convened meeting with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and her delegation on March 27. The PM has insisted the meeting only discussed the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Opposition continues to question that meeting, alleging it may be linked to a Paria fuel shipment deal that went through Aruba and eventually ended up in Venezuela. They fear the deal may have imperilled T&T because countries found doing business with Venezuela could face stiff US sanctions.
Yesterday, Venezuelan media undercut PM Rowley’s position, reporting that Julio Borges, the presidential commissioner for foreign affairs in Venezuela, claimed the discussions in Port-of-Spain involved oil and gas —not COVID-19.
Only those in the room for the talks know what really happened. As the days go by, more will no doubt unfold.
What we find strange is that while the PM found time to meet with the Venezuelan delegation, he has yet to respond to correspondence sent to him on April 16 by a joint business and labour team asking for an emergency meeting of the National Tripartite Council (NTAC) to discuss jobs and the economy in the current COVID-19 crisis. One would think that too would be top of the PM’s agenda.
The joint letter noted that “these are extraordinary times and the country is facing a very grave crisis. The private sector and the labour movement, understanding the seriousness of the crisis, know that we must come together to help the nation through this crisis.”
Labour clearly understands that the COVID crisis has flattened our economy— and the world’s. Jobs are at stake. Many businesses have temporarily closed and may not reopen, as the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce recently warned.
How often does a prime minister get the opportunity to bring adversaries together to find common ground on a national crisis? Engaging in dialogue with labour and business could only redound to the benefit of the entire country.
The NTAC was established in 2015, early in the Rowley administration but in the last four years very little has come out of the council.
The fact is COVID-19 has brought home the reality that the economy and job security are under threat. Individual unions and employers have been meeting to discuss what can be done. Both groups recognise that “unfortunately, such bipartite collaboration is not enough to achieve stability of short term employment and set the foundation for national recovery.”
It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister has not seen it fit to respond to this call to action. Dr Rowley has witnessed COVID-19’s impact on thousands of citizens. His Government has had to expend hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure people survive through this uncertain period. Surely, he must understand the importance of getting people back to work and not having to depend on the state.
We hope Dr Rowley will seize the moment and do the right thing. Ten of thousands of citizens—and our crippled economy— are depending on it.