The Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) is accusing the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert MP, of misleading the country with respect to a TT$7 billion debt the Minister says is owed to the National Gas Company (NGC) by T&TEC (Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission).
According to the OWTU, the finance minister may be laying the groundwork for a possible shutdown of T&TEC, stating it is an “attempt to repeat the identical Petrotrin playbook that [Prime Minister] Rowley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018…”
The OWTU issued the following statement today, on the matter…
“The recent statements by the Finance Minister about T&TEC owing NGC TT$7 billion are being made without the proper context and reasons for T&TEC’s indebtedness. We clearly recognise the attempt to repeat the identical Petrotrin playbook that Rowley used to shut down Petrotrin in 2018.
In a recent article by Curtis Williams published in the Trinidad Guardian, Finance Minister Colm Imbert is quoted as saying that T&TEC owes NGC $7 billion.
Additionally, he claimed that the government subsidises T&TEC $700 million annually and the county cannot afford to continue to subsidise T&TEC. Note carefully this is the identical narrative they used for shutting down Petrotrin in 2018. The article also refers to NGC blaming T&TEC, arguing that the debt prevents the gas company’s growth.
In light of these misleading statements, with its only intent being to justify the privatization of T&TEC and send home all its workers, the OWTU wishes to point out the following facts:-
Firstly, the Finance Minister is very aware that the government in fact owes T&TEC TT$900 million for electricity. The so-called subsidy of TT$700 million must be viewed in this context. The government is both the sole shareholder and a major bad-paying customer of T&TEC. While the sums owed may cancel each other at the national level, the government’s debt to T&TEC creates intense pressure on T&TEC’s cash flow and its overall financial position.
Secondly, the major issue that is really crippling T&TEC is the onerous Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the bulk suppliers of electricity (e.g., Incogen and TGU). We must remember that T&TEC was once a fully integrated power utility, i.e., it generated, transmitted and distributed electricity, making it more profitable at that time. In 1994, the generation of electricity was privatised, giving multinational companies a share of the profits that previously went to T&TEC and its shareholder, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GORTT).
Since then, two additional bulk suppliers were established in addition Powergen. The relationship between T&TEC and the bulk suppliers is governed by onerous PPAs. These agreements mandate that T&TEC must pay for the natural gas used by the bulk suppliers and still pay for all electricity generated whether that electricity is used or not. Through these PPAs, the bulk suppliers have been given every advantage to operate profitably at T&TEC’s expense, making billions of dollars in profit every year while T&TEC faces severe financial challenges.
Thirdly, it is a fact like other state enterprises that there has been increased politicization of T&TEC. While the people expect the government to place on the board of these state enterprise members who implement efficient government policies, this continues to not be the case. Therefore, the government runs T&TEC by politics rather than proper policies.
A close examination of the Board will reveal that there are not suitably qualified and experienced persons such as engineers as directors on the boards of T&TEC, Powergen and TGU. In addition, T&TEC was forced to do without a board for an extended period because of PNM’s political infighting as to whom the Chairman should be. It is clear that the T&TEC workers definitely are not the ones who are consistently making all these bad decisions adversely impacting T&TEC’s viability. Even though the T&TEC workers dutifully put their lives, limbs and health at risk on a daily basis to provide a reliable service to the country, they are the first to be targeted.
Fourthly, the Minister of Finance deliberately omitted to inform the population about the historical relationship between NGC and T&TEC. The public must know that all of NGC’s original, founding assets were built by T&TEC. The construction of the modern gas-powered plant in Penal in 1953 required a network of pipelines to provide the gas to the plant.
These lines were subsequently extended to Point Lisas to power two generators at FEDCHEM and, later on, to power the establishment of the Point Lisas power station. In the early 1980s, the government decided that T&TEC would sell these valuable assets to NGC, which was then called the GAS Co., for $1. Whilst T&TEC was NOT compensated for its investment in these assets, NGC became a very profitable state enterprise.
The only beneficiaries of this untenable current situation are local big businesses, a network of local contractors who are party financiers and the multinationals. It should be noted that Arcelor Mittal moved from an obscure steel company to the world’s largest steel producer and for a very long time they were T&TEC’s largest customer. They received subsidized electricity rates at the expense of T&TEC. Companies like these have grown their profit margins on the backs of T&TEC’s workers.
Other major businesses received subsidized electricity as well. So instead of threatening ordinary working people, retirees, pensioners, persons on fixed incomes and the poor who are residential customers and make no profit from subsidized electricity, the government should focus its attention on multinationals and their 1% friends.
Like the Prime Minister in the shutting down of Petrotrin fiasco, the disinformation is now being given to the public by the Minister of Finance. This was done intentionally to omit major aspects of the story that showed how T&TEC has been consistently placed in an unfavourable position by the government. T&TEC’s indebtedness must not be viewed and cannot be solved without all the facts, history and background being shared.
Gas represents the biggest cost of generating electricity, therefore the government must immediately review the PPAs ensuring that the bulk suppliers pay NGC for the use of the gas. Additionally, the government must immediately pay its own light and power bills to T&TEC and continue to pay on time.
Finally, the OWTU demands that electricity rates not be increased for ordinary residential customers, instead, we call for the multinationals to pay more for electricity which they use to generate huge profits.
The question that arises now is, what is the real intention of the Finance Minister in providing incomplete information to the public? OWTU is reminding the population of some of the similar misleading information from the same government leading up to the closure of Petrotrin in 2018. The privatisation of T&TEC and the sending home of all its workers will not be in the interest of the people. Let it not be said that you were not warned.”
—OILFIELDS WORKERS’ TRADE UNION