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Dear Editor: Why upgrade NP gas stations with taxpayers’ money then sell to private owners?

“[…] Is it that we are spending tens of millions of the people’s money to upgrade facilities only to then hand these facilities over to private owners?

“With the end of subsidisation of fuel prices coupled with the handover of the people’s assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the one percent, one shudders to think about the effect this will have on food prices and the prices of other necessities…”

The following letter on the privatisation of NP gas stations was submitted to OWTU president Ancel Roget by Dave Smith, National Workers Union president and Carla Walcott, general secretary, and copied to Deryck Richardson, Estate Police Association president:

Photo: A NP gas station.

Dear Comrade,

I am directed by the National Executive of our union to communicate with you on the decision of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’s (GORTT) to sell the people’s assets, namely the taxpayers-owned retail service station network, to private business people now operating these outlets as paid employed managers and retail petroleum licensed dealers of state-owned retail petroleum outlets.

This decision, announced in the 2021 Budget and recently confirmed by the Minister of Finance (Corporation Sole), will have several serious effects on the society. namely:

1. The loss of jobs at NPMC in the retail sector—the major business area of NPMC and the possibility of the closure of the company. Scores of employees will be affected. Job loss will have a knock-on effect on the pension plan which is already affected by the three outstanding negotiation periods and the poor investment environment. It is noteworthy that there are more pensioners than active members in the pension plans.

2. The rise of fuel prices as dealers resort to cartelism pricing, a system used by many businesses in our country.

Photo: A motorist hangs up a gas pump.
(Copyright Africa TVC News)

3. The sale prices for these 80 wholly owned retail gas stations could be the source of corruption in the form of undervalued pricing for According to NPs Consolidated Financial Statement for year ending 31 March 2018, what is called ‘the cost of NP’s lands and buildings’ is put at TTD$344.3 million; the stated net book value is put at TTD$216. 5 million.

It is strange that the NP website states that, Under NPMC’s transformation programme, service stations are being fully upgraded, offering multi-product fuelling positions, larger storage capacities, environmental monitoring systems, state-of-the-art technology

Is it that we are spending tens of millions of the people’s money to upgrade facilities only to then hand these facilities over to private owners?

Are we, then, subsidising the one percent while, at the same time, we are removing subsidies from the working people?

Image: A satirical take on gas prices.

4. Unstable fuel prices could be the source of uncontrolled inflation in an already fickle and depressed national economy. Fuel prices not only affect transport prices. Road transport is the basis of the distribution of goods in the country and, in this sector, cartelism and price-fixing are par for the course.

Even the Central Bank points this out in its publication PUBLIC EDUCATION SERIES NO 2 entitled INFLATION: the rate of increase in food prices has undoubtedly been influenced by the oligopolistic structure of the wholesale distribution sector which has allowed increases in transportation costs and port charges to be passed on to consumers.

The structure of the sector and buoyant consumer demand also allowed for increases in mark-ups (…) Inflation is affected by the volatility in fuel prices. In Trinidad and Tobago (…) the rise in international oil prices has not had a major direct impact on headline inflation as domestic fuel and energy prices are heavily subsidized.

With the end of subsidisation of fuel prices coupled with the handover of the people’s assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the one percent, one shudders to think about the effect this will have on food prices and the prices of other necessities.

Image: A satirical take on food prices.

5. Our economy is a small developing one and cannot withstand price instability, which affects economic planning. Indeed, this will greatly decrease the ability of working people who are already reeling from the phenomenal price increases already in effect to maintain a decent standard of living.

6. Other issues that the OWTU and the EPA can identify in discussion with your officials, members and officers at NPMC.

Our National Executive Committee has suggested that a joint opposition to the massive sale of these modernised retail outlets costing hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money be jointly conducted by the three recognised majority unions (OWTU, EPA and NWU) in NPMC.

As a first step, we suggest an early joint meeting to discuss this proposal. In addition, the labour unions in the country can bring to the table their own issues with the objective of launching a massive resistance and fightback to restore the dignity and respect workers previously enjoyed.

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