Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley says despite the loss of thousands of jobs over the past three and half years, his administration has been able to keep Trinidad and Tobago out of the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and urged citizens never forget the atrocities of the previous government.
“We are managing the country to be the benefit of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said, adding “we have done reasonably well. With all the difficulties in the world, we could not have done a lot better but we are not collapsed and hell is not our portion.”.
In the second part of his “Mind Your Business” presentation on Monday night, Rowley told a television audience that “we did not use retrenchment in the public service” as a means of dealing with economic situation he inherited when he came to office in September 2015.
He said unlike other Caribbean countries, notably, Barbados and Jamaica, that had sought assistance from the Washington-based financial institution, Rowley said “we will take our own medicine and manage ourselves”.
According to the figures released by Prime Minister Rowley during the hour-long presentation, in 2015, an estimated 582,000 people were employed with the figure rising to 623,000 at a time when the oil price was nearly US$100 a barrel, dropping to 602,0000 when the country was receiving one billion dollars in revenue from the energy sector.
In his presentation, Rowley defended the decision to shut down the loss-making oil refinery at the state-owned company, PETROTRIN, noting that while it meant the inevitable loss of thousands of jobs, thousands others however have found employment with the new companies formed to take on the role previously undertaken by PETROTRIN.
“We own an oil company. It is one of the few oil companies in the world owned by the people. When that collapse took place in 2014 it affected all countries like us. Up to the point when we intervened, the prior business of PETROTRIN delivered to TT$13 billion in debt and the only reason people were lending Petrotrin money was because the Government owned it 100 per cent. It was against the understanding that if the company could not pay, the Government will stand the cost for the company.”
He said four billion dollars in royalties were not paid just to allow the company to continue to stay in business, adding that was the only company in the country that was not paying taxes. He said the forecast for the company was two billion in losses every year going forward.
“We restructured the company in 2018. The debt owed by PETROTRIN would be serviced by the Heritage Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of PETROTRIN, so it would relieve the Finance Minister of the burden of servicing PETROTRIN’s debt, which left more money for the minister to do other things in the country.”
“An oil company in Trinidad and Tobago properly managed, properly resourced should be able to produce enough oil to turn a profit. To do that we were affecting a lot of status quo and some people are not going to be happy. We couldn’t make an omelette without breaking the egg, and hopefully we would have a meal for all after breaking the egg, but we never killed the goose that laid the golden egg.”
But Prime Minister Rowley said that while Trinidad and Tobago economy is based on the oil and gas sectors, there was need to diversify into other areas.
Rowley said in the way of diversification the new Phoenix Park will be used for manufacturing aluminium cables and make sheet aluminium as well as aluminium wheels for cars. He said the methanol plant will also be on stream. He said the drydock at La Brea will invite ships to come in for repairs.
Prime Minister Rowley said that he has approached the private sector with proposals to invest in agriculture in the over 1,000 acres of agriculture land that has been laid to waste in Aripo, north of here.
“This is job creation. These areas of employment will generate jobs.”
He reminded the nation that the previous coalition government led by Kamla Persad Bissessar had engaged in several policies resulting in a significant decline in revenue to the country.
But he said three and a half years later, the statistics show the country is improving.
Opposition Leader Persad Bissessar has dismissed the presentations of the Prime Minister and instead challenged him to a public debate on the state of the economy.
“”If you name man, I am going to take you on manos y manos, in a public debate on all the issues you raised in the power-point. One on one, I will engage you. Be man, come forward and I will take you on on all of those lies, every distortion I will show you what we did, how we delivered in any spear of lives in Trinidad and Tobago,” said Persad Bissessar, who led the coalition People’s Partnership government that lost the 2015 general election.