Whether you agreed with him, whether you thought his policies were wrong, even if you were on different sides, it was difficult to dislike Franklin (Frankie) Khan.
I first met the late Frankie Khan in early 2002. He was at the time campaigning to be the Member of Parliament for the then Ortoire/Mayaro constituency.
While I have not lived in Rio Claro since I passed the then Common Entrance for Queen’s Royal College, it is where my family is from, it is where I visit my mother almost every week. It is where I still call home. So Frankie was my Member of Parliament and I knew him both as a constituent and a journalist.
In the Mayaro constituency, Frankie was always there for his constituents. He was not an absentee MP as often occurred in Mayaro and which the constituency had rejected in 1995, in favour of the former chairman of the Mayaro Regional Corporation, Razack Ali.
Even after Khan ceased to be the MP for the area, he always played a role in every subsequent election in that constituency, often as campaign manager or constituency coordinator.
Khan spoke the language of the ordinary man and never lost sight of where he came from, often proudly talking about life in Mayaro and the need to develop rural areas.
Business Guardian readers will know that I had been very critical of Khan recently, culminating in a December 24, 2020 article titled, Please go now Minister Khan, in which I urged the late Minister to exit the Ministry of Energy.
In that article, I argued that T&T’s energy sector was in trouble and it was clear that the Government and Khan seemed incapable of finding solutions.
I argued that Khan had been in charge of the sector for the last four and a half years and even though it is unfair to blame a single individual for the troubles of the sector, one could not deny things were going wrong.
I, however, pointed out a couple things about Khan in the article. I wrote, “I have known Mr Khan for a long time and he is always a pleasant man. But when it’s time to go we must exit the stage. We must all know when we can do no more.”
I went further to write on December 24, “It is no secret that Khan underwent major heart surgery a couple years ago and we are all happy he was able to recover, but as we looked at him shuffle to receive his letter of appointment from the President, one could not help feel a sense of sadness that the Prime Minister would put such burden on a man who has given so much and who is clearly in the winter of his years and would better spend his time with family and taking care of his health.”
The Opposition UNC then used significant portions of my December 24 article as the basis for their no-confidence motion in Khan, calling on him to resign or be fired as Energy Minister.
Yet, when I asked Khan for a full-length interview, he without hesitation agreed, and on March 5, a month and a half before he died at home, Khan sat down for an hour and three quarters with a journalist who was severely critical of him and answered challenging questions. An interview in which he knew nothing was off the table and where he showed his class and demonstrated confidence that even if you disagreed with his approach, he was prepared to argue his case.
You see for Frankie, it was okay to disagree with him, whether privately or publicly. And yes he was the kind of person where if he saw you at Panchos, How’zat or any other watering hole, he was prepared to have a drink with you and debate with you.
Khan was not a politician who held grudges for his detractors or journalists and did not adopt the position that he knew everything and therefore no one else should have a view at variance with his.
In what turned out to be his last full-length interview, the former Minister of Energy was candid about the challenges he was facing as Minister of Energy.
He said, “I will be dishonest if I do not say that the gas industry, in terms of the gas value chain in T&T has challenges. Unlike shale gas in America, we cannot get gas at $1 or $2. It is hinged to the same issue I spoke about with small fields, higher unit cost of development. There is the issue of the NGC as the aggregator and there is the issue of the Point Lisas plants and commodity prices.”
Khan sought to defend the increase in natural gas prices, saying the upstreamers (bpTT, Royal Dutch Shell, EOG Resources and BHP) made a credible case that they have to have higher gas prices because they will collapse.
“A chain is as strong as its weakest link, without upstream there can be no downstream, without any downstream there also cannot be any upstream, so they have to live in a symbiotic relationship,” the Energy Minister said.
As always happens with interviews, often other discussions occur off the record and Khan told me that he agreed the country had to move quickly to get as much oil out of the ground as possible because it was clear that crude oil would not be a commodity that could add value for the country in the long term.
He was more optimistic about natural gas and the window left for gas. He said to me, as a nationalist, he hoped the experts were wrong and the window for hydrocarbons would last well beyond 2050.
Khan, in the interview, also boasted of the cadre of young professionals he had brought into the Ministry of Energy. He said many of them had attended some of the best universities in the world and were as bright as any of their peers.
Frankie was a nationalist and the country is poorer for his loss.
May he rest in peace and may his family find comfort in the time they spent with him.