State-owned Paria Fuel Trading and the privately held Unipet never had a deal for the supply of fuel, they only had an “agreement”.
That “agreement” allowed Unipet to rack up a $172 million bill in one year and led to Paria only now cutting the supply off.
Paria chairman, Newman George yesterday confirmed the existing unsigned “agreement” with Unipet.
“I am not aware of any deal. I can only refer to agreements between Paria/Unipet,” George said in a call and WhatsApp exchange yesterday.
The agreement, George said, was inherited by his board when he took over in August 2019. It was put in place when Paria was formed out of the defunct Petrotrin in November last year.
“Unipet had a month to month agreement and they signed every month and were given the fuel in good faith, “ he said.
He said in a meeting two weeks ago, Paria gave Unipet a December 11 deadline to pay off the $68 million outstanding.
“There was a verbal agreement,” George said.
While the privately held Unipet as given a wide grace period to make payments, George said that State-owned National Petroleum was help to a weekly pay schedule.
George did not respond to questions about why a non-state company was allowed such leeway but it was an agreement that he inherited.
When Paria was formed back in 2018, it was chaired by Wilfred Espinet.
In a series of WhatsApp exchanges yesterday Espinet too confirmed that there was no signed agreement.
He too could not say why Paria allowed Unipet that continued delivery of fuel on good faith.
“I have to speculate that the agreement that existed expired and that the terms of the old agreement was continued pending resolution, “Espinet said.
“I again speculate that invoices were not paid on the due dates as per the old agreement and the supply was discontinued pending payment,” he said.
When asked if he recalled Unipet defaulting on payments while he chaired Paria, Espinet directed all such questions to the present company.
“The payment or collections of accounts is an operational function. It should become a Board issue only in so far as it impacts policy law or the stability of the organisation,” he said.
One former Petortrin executive, who left when Espinet did, said that the management used to run regular cash updates that would flow up to the Board and then they would implement “collection action”.
It is unclear whether that ever happened.
“The current arrangement was negotiated under the past Board, from memory, it was for payment every 7 days. That was the principle,” he said.
According to inside sources at Unipet, all its 24 filling stations are expected to run dry by today and the company was still locked in talks trying to work out how to make payments in order to get the fuel back at their stations.
On Wednesday, acting Energy Minister Colm Imbert revealed that Unipet owed Paria millions of dollars and that the two had failed to reach an agreement on the payment.