As Parliament debate on the Petrotrin refinery closure finally took place with yesterday’s resumption of the Senate, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus also broke her silence on the issue.
“It’s a very painful situation,” Baptiste-Primus said responding to T&T Guardian questions (during the lunch break) on why she’d been silent on the issue and her views.
“... That’s all I’m about to say. But reality is reality. But all disputes are referred to the Labour Minister and therefore I simply cannot comment (on the matter).
“I’m not silent because I want to be silent. But I’m silent because of my responsibility. When the OWTU had served strike action against Petrotrin (earlier this year) I had to intervene and we were in negotiations with them for over 30 hours and therefore I cannot comment, as this matter (closure) is likely to end up before me.”
Baptiste-Primus continued, “Should I make any public pronouncement, either Petrotrin or OWTU can demand that I recuse myself because I’ve already commented. But note that I’m taking my legal responsibilities - under the Industrial Relations act - seriously. And based on my experience, certainly, if it comes to me to intervene, there will be fairness for all.”
Baptiste-Primus spoke ahead of yesterday’s Senate debate on the closure - the first such Parliamentary conversation on the matter since Government recently announced the refinery closure decision.
At that time, during Parliament’s recess, the Opposition had called for the immediate resumption of Parliament to debate the matter. But Parliament wasn’t reconvened.
When Parliament resumed after the recess yesterday in the Senate, Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen called for debate on the closure as a definite matter of urgent national importance.
Senate Vice-President Nigel De Freitas approved the motion for debate last evening (TU).
Apart from the airing of views on the issue there, Energy Minister Franklin Khan, earlier in proceedings, stressed the input of foreign consultants weighed heavily in the decision.
“Hence the results of the Lashley report, a multi-disciplinary team to evaluate Petrotrin’s current financial position and to recommend plans for its restructuring. After that, we had work going on to drill deeper into the data to determine what decision should be taken.”
Khan said Petrotrin recruited internationally first-in-class consulting firms Solomon and Associates and McKinsey Consultants Ltd.
“We analysed the data. The board presented the options to the Cabinet, the Cabinet accepted the preferred option of the board and the decision was taken. With regard to publishing some of the information and reports, the Government will look at it seriously but it’s ultimately a Cabinet decision.”