Daly Bread: Patriotic manoeuvres on energy and education

Not for the first time, I wondered last week about the coherence of some of the government’s objectives.

I noted that the chairman of the committee on community recovery gave an empathetic update on its work so far, but I wondered again whether that empathy would be shared by those ministers of government dismissive of the effect of hardship in disadvantaged communities.

My wonder also arose from the role of Senator Franklin Khan, the minister of energy and energy industries.

Photo: PNM chairman and Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs Franklin Khan (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(Copyright Power 102FM)

In the recent past, when the prime minister visited the energy capitals of the world, minister Khan has had to share the stage with one or more ministers, whose respective portfolios are not obviously related to the energy sector. With acknowledgement to Penguin, is ‘a deputy essential’?

Last week minister Khan was sent to say one thing but, two days after, the government took a different position. I refer to minister Khan’s announcement of the rejection of the bid for the shutdown Petrotrin oil refinery made by Patriotic Energy and Technologies Limited (Patriotic), a company owned by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU).

This announcement was made so soon after receipt of Patriotic’s proposal that it seemed that there was a lack of mature consideration of the proposal or that its rejection was pre-ordained.

Two days after the rejection, it was announced—not by the re-appearance of minister Khan before the cameras, but by press release—that the proposal would be sent for examination to the previously Cabinet-appointed Evaluation Committee.

That announcement might be taken at face value as a response to Patriotic’s request that its bid be re-assessed. However, surrounding circumstances, particularly a patronising statement attributed to an unnamed government official, suggest that such an examination is a mamaguy.

Photo: JTUM leader Ancel Roget.

Here is the statement from the unnamed official reported in the Trinidad Express newspaper: “Many people thought he would have come out all guns blazing on Sunday, (after the proposal was rejected), but he was very reasonable in his response and he made a reasonable suggestion. And the prime minister, therefore, went with it.”

This anonymous statement sought to make the temperament of Ancil Roget an issue. Roget is the chairman of Patriotic.

As leader of the OWTU, Roget’s notorious outbursts in that capacity have made him strongly disliked in some quarters; but what does that have to do with a commercial proposal on which the government chose to confer the status of a preferred bid?

Dislike of an individual is material in politics. Someone with an unlikeable persona may be unelectable in a diverse national contest. 

By contrast, good governance requires honest treatment of the business issues relating to its proposal of Roget and his group to acquire the refinery.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley with Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
(via Trinidad Express)

This ‘second chance’ given to Patriotic is also a strangely qualified one.  As reported in another newspaper, it was given with an intention that ‘the Evaluation Committee’s examination will be separate and apart from the work and determination of the Cabinet sub-committee, which has also received the submissions’.

Despite Roget’s continued optimism, it appears that there is some covert and unwelcome need for the government to manoeuvre itself away from the preferred bidder, possibly because the government did not have a clear right to sell the refinery assets as the assets were pledged to lenders to whom the government is in debt.

Let’s see what they send back minister Khan to say or spin.

There was another significant ministerial announcement last week. Minister of Education, Nyan Gadsby Dolly MP, announced a consultation on education with named topics that go to the heart of the failed education system.

She framed the consultation as follows: “As the country manoeuvred the new digital landscape for teaching and learning, the reality of the inadequacies of some of our existing systems became glaringly apparent.”

Photo: Students at the Sangre Grande Hindu School focus on their Trinidad Guardian SEA practice test.
(Courtesy bpartofit)

She then robustly declared: “Systems, processes and regulations originating in the post-independence era and even extending back into the nineteenth century have become embedded into the education system with attendant norms and associated issues which are unmanageable and therefore unsustainable at this present time.”

This declaration is long overdue. If the proposed consultation is not another mamaguy consultation, then it would be a more welcome patriotic manoeuvre.

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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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