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Prime Minister Rowley, be a builder not a destroyer! Demming suggests cons of Petrotrin move

In the lead-up to the 2015 general elections, the then Leader of the Opposition “went to bed” with the Trade Union Movement and they birthed an agreement. Post 2015, the now Prime Minister has crept away from his partners and abandoned the product of that union.

Today, he is in essence saying: “If you want the child, then put down your money.”

Trinidad and Tobago has abandoned coffee, cocoa, sugar, citrus, coconut and now oil refining.

Photo: Prime minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley (centre) observe the Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

The late Walton James, former Managing Director of Trintoc and his colleagues must be turning in their graves, because when they approached the late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams to purchase Texaco, this was not the outcome they expected. They may have dreamt of a T&T where we are operating a fully integrated energy sector, spanning exploration, production and marketing.

The several refinery upgrades have all been in an attempt to strengthen the refining sector but the politics keeps getting in the way, because we systematically destroy what each previous government administration does, then populate the space with square pegs.

The union is not blameless because they have taken the position of, “We too, deserve to live ‘high off the hog.’” The twin problem of puerile politics and lack of productivity is finally on our doorsteps. We can see it as an opportunity to fix both, but that requires leadership with a macro or is it “maco” vision.

Instead, Prime Minister Rowley has continued the negative messaging that we cannot build and grow, we can only destroy. Except for the Pt Lisas Estate, the slash and burn philosophy continues.

This murky Petrotrin decision smacks of either lack of clarity of the intended outcome, ineffective communications or the need to reward favoured supporters. Here was an opportunity to hammer out an arrangement with the trade union for the successful operation of the Refinery.

Photo: OWTU president general Ancel Roget.
(Copyright Industriallunion.org)

There is no shortage of “young” retirees with the knowledge to change the culture of Petrotrin, but we continue to judge capacity on the basis of political leanings.

If we are able to collaborate with the most ferocious trade union to take the journey toward culture change, we can change the entire country. If high productivity and innovation became the core values at Petrotrin under a collaboration with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union leadership, all other unions would follow—and indeed, the entire society.

This lack of productivity and wastage is not confined to Petrotrin and the State sector but is just as prevalent in the private sector which continues to survive and not thrive. What is needed is a leader who can inspire us to strive towards a higher ideal. Instead, what we continue to be told is that we have failed, while what we need is the inspiration for us to rise from failure and strive for a higher standard.

We learned the plantation model well and it is time to unlearn it. We are reviving the cocoa industry, but it is still on the basis of exporting the raw product, why couldn’t we invest in chocolate manufacturing on a global scale so that the sector is really stimulated. Doesn’t anyone in T&T dream of this?

We abandoned Caroni but, just a 90-minute flight away, the sugar estates in Guadeloupe continue to thrive and their several rum distilleries conduct daily tours teaching the world how to assess a good quality rum. Can we not envision this for ourselves?

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago cocoa industry is in a coma.
(Copyright Accra Report)

We abandoned coffee and there is an unprecedented revival in the coffee industry. For each example I have used we made the wrong decision.

Once again, we have taken the easy way out. Shut it down, sell it off and send the message that our citizens should continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Maybe there can be a make-up of the busted relationship between the Prime Minister and the Labour Movement. Such a make-up could birth a new age of productivity and national pride in Trinidad and Tobago.

The excitement of such a possibility would leave me feeling that my cohort inspired our nation to be doers as well as dreamers!

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming is an Adjunct Faculty Member at UWI, Media and Communications Strategist, TEDxPOS organiser and co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain and Chairman of the Board at TTTHTI. Dennise, who grew up in East POS, also has a Business MBA and B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and Mass Communications from UWI.

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2 comments

  1. What seems to underpin all the decisions taken is an apparent absence of long term planning and vision.There is nothing intrinsically wrong in deciding to exit an industry;IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.
    The decisions of the government being queried don’t seem to have been made in the context of an overriding economic development plan. The decisions all seem to have been driven by short – term budgetary considerations. I would wager that if in the recent case of Petrotrin, the fiscal position were stronger and the government was better funded,the decision urgency at Petrotrin would not exist. Decision urgency at Petrotrin was needed a long time ago -even during the time of surplus funds when the several failed projects were being considered and implemented. The same can certainly be said for sugar. Long term planning is key.
    Businesses,especially capital intensive business such as Petrotrin,cannot be run on the basis of five year government budget cycles: they must be run on the basis of long term plans and vision. If they are run on this five year basis the country will forever be subjected to the arbitrary,unplanned and urgent closure of businesses or exit from industries which may be unprofitable but which can be re-purposed,restructured or retired in an orderly fashion with clear plans for the decision outcomes. On the other hand the country’s development framework can be established and articulated so that the people understand or at least have some sense of the nation’s development path. This approach would require planning cycles longer than five years; in some countries these cycles are as long as thirty years forward.
    I am saying this, not in defence of the Prime Minister,but to indicate that as a country we need to seriously consider whether government should continue to be as involved in industry as it is or whether in a modern world with serious development funding available and quick and easy capital movement, private capital should be encouraged to play a greater part in the nations growth.
    That is an argument that is fundamental to the ongoing discussion on Petrotrin.

  2. When insecure “boys” are saddled with “manly responsibilities” they too often are unable to rise with the occasion. What we end up with are “pissing contests” where we seek to convince the audience as to who the real man is. And the old saying about “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers’ with the closure of all the industries mentioned, it is the people who suffer. And will continue to do so. Until we create an education system which creates an intelligent population, the few who bamboozle the masses will continue as one book reminded us about the wise living off the fools.