The State-owned Heritage Petroleum Company continues to be mired in controversy as opposed to confidently taking over operations of the former Petrotrin. CEO of Heritage, Mike Wiley had said that his mandate was to get Heritage to the top 25 international competitor level from Petrotrin’s bottom 25 ranking. (See Guardian August 20, 2019).
Subsequently, Wiley went AWOL. Amidst speculation in the public domain as to whether Wiley was actually on the job whilst he earned some quarter of a million dollars per month, came news that he was ill and recovering at his Texas Home. There was a memo from the Petroleum Holdings Limited’s Chairman Wilfred Espinet, re Wiley’s absence.
This memo to workers was apparently the first clear statement in the public domain which gave a reason for the CEO, Mike Wiley’s absence from the job. The memo stated that Wiley was undergoing post-cancer treatment anticipated to last six months and that his projected recovery period was shorter than the time it would take to terminate him (Wiley) and recruit a new CEO (See Guardian article published August 22, 2019). Chairman Espinet apparently told employees that Wiley, as CEO, will work from home in Texas.
Most of us will like to work from home but, public pressure appeared to motivate the Heritage Board to say that the ‘work-from-home’ arrangement was not satisfactory. A committee was to be established to oversee the day-to-day operations. Chairman Espinet is quoted as having said that “We want the organisation to be competitive and so, the Board has put a team in place to work along with Mr Wylie to drive the operations of the company.” (See Guardian August 22, 2019).
Then, lo and behold, a massive revamping of the Heritage structure came like a thief in the night. Guardian headline of Friday August 23, 2019, stated Government ends contract with ill Heritage CEO, Chairman Espinet booted as energy firm’s chair too, and attorney Michael Quamina to be the new chairman.
The entire situation starting with the closure of Petrotrin’s refinery reeks of ill and untoward moves by the Government. The closure of Petrotrin has never been properly and/or adequately justified by the Dr Rowley-led PNM Government. Espinet has been perceived to be the ‘hatchet man.’ With the authority of the Government, he dropped the axe on thousands of jobs and virtually destroyed thousands of families in the country. While most of Petrotrin workers have been left unemployed or unemployable, the familiar flagship flames at the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery has gone for good as of November last year.
Many questions in the public domain, more so by politicians but valid concerns nonetheless, arose over whether there was a cover-up of another fiasco. I leave that alone for now since this has legal ramifications.
The inevitable question to be answered is that, having justified the ‘work-at-home’ arrangement and the justification for an overseeing committee being appointed, how do you then jump straight into firing these ‘energy experts’—namely Espinet and Wiley—and appointing non-energy experts in the personalities of Michael Quamina and Newman George. George is the outgoing Housing Development Corporation chairman.
According to Newsday August 23, former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine believes part of the problem is that "there has been no stability at Petrotrin and now its successors since 2015. This is the third Chairman of Petrotrin/TPHL since 2017 and there have been numerous iterations of boards and managements.
"The situation with Mike Wylie is unfortunate and I wish him well with his health issues. The fact is, the production at Petrotrin/Heritage has seen significant decline in the past three years.
"Reversing this will require money. Where is that money coming from? The company has a lot of debt to service. The most recent accounts show total liabilities at $32 billion and current liabilities at $23 billion.
The company has also just recently managed to restructure its debt, avoiding an US$850 million bullet bond payment that would have been due this month.
And in Newsday of Friday August 23, The Opposition believes that Government’s termination of Wilfred Espinet as chairman of Trinidad Petroleum and all its attendant Boards was long overdue.
But the new appointees, with their lack of experience, still leave much to be considered, said UNC deputy political leader, David Lee.
For the many years that Petrotrin operated, not only thousands were employed, but mini entrepreneurships developed with businesses booming and thousands more employed. Today, Gasparillo is fast degenerating into a ghost town. The ripple effect of Petrotrin’s closure will also affect communities beyond Gasparillo.
Energy Minister Franklyn Khan cannot with his usual smile tell us that the transformation process has been successful. All indicators point to failure.