I drove past the Petrotrin refinery one night and felt the stillness that darkness provides. In my imagination, I saw the stare of thousands of eyes from the darkness.
It is now six months since Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet wielded his axe, with the full permission of the current government, and the refinery is still dim and quiet. A closure which has been discussed for decades is now a reality and the human casualty is uncounted.
Listening to Espinet and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, they were clear that the decision was based on what the spreadsheet was saying; and for any business, that is how it works. But for a country, we missed an opportunity to mend a broken system and way of operating. We missed an opportunity to hold our people to a higher ideal.
The closure of Petrotrin was not simply the closing of a plant; it was a statement that we have no faith in the 6,000-plus people who have been sent home and the thousands who worked there since the turn of the previous century. It was a public admittance that we have failed as a people.
Petrotrin’s closure has added to the number of things we have done in the past. We were sugar producers. We were cocoa suppliers. We were the Mecca of steelband. Who are we today and what we are known for has to be redefined.
Profit, money and shareholders cannot be the only decision criteria in business. The daily problems we grapple with can only be solved by the energy of our people. Countries with less have achieved more, and the difference is that their leaders held them to a higher, more positive version of themselves. Our aspirational bar seems to be often un-ambitiously low.
Had our leaders approached the closure of Petrotrin in a mindful manner, there would have been a seamless transition from the old to the new. If I ask the man in the street about the future of the oil industry he would claim ignorance, which is understandable. But for us to achieve our potential as a country, every Tom, Dick and Beharry has to buy in to our future vision, so it must be defined in a way that is palpable.
Oil has been king for too long for us to be unclear about its future. It is the responsibility of the government to communicate in clear terms what the future is likely to be and the road map to that destination.
We need a development path which is genuine and sustainable. The gun talk and continuous exhibition of power is no way to collaborate with our people. After six months of closure, what is our future in the oil industry?
Every day that the refinery remains closed is a day closer to its permanent closure. Like an old car, if you just park it up, the rate of deterioration increases rapidly.
The rebuilding of Trinidad and Tobago must be done by valuing our human resource. If we prioritise people over profits, we will ensure our future profits. Our leaders must engender the trust of the population and hold that faith delicately as they chart the future course.
Our leaders must exhibit genuine respect and empathy for the plight of the people and, instead of giving us a handout or some make-work, challenge us to produce, add value and be proud of our contributions.
Until a leader is ready to be humble, respectful and empathetic, we shall continue to scavenge amongst the scraps left over by financiers and political opportunists.