Big changes at Petrotrin’s successor companies.
Businessman Wilfred Espinet, who supervised Petrotrin’s transition—and chaired successor companies’ boards—and ailing Heritage Petroleum company CEO Mike Wylie are both “out.”
Attorney Michael Quamina and outgoing Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Newman George will now be chairing the boards which Espinet had headed.
And Government has a potential permanent replacement for Texas-born Wylie, who’s been in the US for the last two months undergoing cancer treatment. He’d been in T&T with the Petrotrin transformation project just under a year.
Energy Minister Franklin Khan and Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the changes at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing.
Khan said Cabinet yesterday approved certain changes in the board and governance of Heritage as well as the Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Company Ltd—which Espinet chaired—the main holding company which succeeded Petrotrin.
Espinet was the spokesman during last year’s turbulent Petrotrin transformation into Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited (TPHL) and successor companies, Heritage, Paria Fuel Trading Company and Guaracara Refining Company Ltd, which Espinet all chaired.
Yesterday, Khan recounted Petrotrin’s problems and moves in September 2017 to appoint a new Petrotrin board headed by Espinet to transform Petrotrin into a new entity.
Khan, however, added, “We think the time has come now where the transformation process has been successfully completed. The TPHL has done an extremely good job, restructured operations and transformed (Petrotrin) into its new look.”
Khan didn’t name Espinet. He simply announced Quamina—who is a TPHL board member—to chair TPHL hereon. George, who’s on all three company boards, will now chair the Paria and Guaracara companies. (See box)
Khan added, “We thank those who served on TPHL and assure persons who aren’t in this present configuration that we appreciate their outstanding service to T&T. They’ve done an extremely credible job for T& and they’ve placed the new entity on the path to success.”
On whether there had been issues with Espinet, Imbert said, “Few people in T&T could have done the job that he did in restructuring the company and securing the financing of the (US)$850 million bond. But the restructuring is more or less complete and we’re now moving to operations. So the board has done the job we asked them to do and it’s time to move into a different phase of the company’s life.
“Mr Espinet and his team did a fantastic job. There was a very tight time schedule, one of the greatest achievements was the bond refinancing...so he did a fantastic job in restructuring, brilliant, but we’re now moving into operations. There are all sorts of issues: we have to get oil production up...”
One of Espinet’s last actions was a memo to Heritage workers this week, standing by Wylie, whose contract, Espinet said, wouldn’t be terminated during his absence. Espinet had said Wylie remained Heritage CEO and needed to be part of the team because of his ability to drive Heritage forward. Espinet said firing Wylie would be more time consuming and costly than allowing him six months to recuperate. This, after it was revealed that Wylie was ill, had taken leave and undergone surgery in the US.
On Tuesday, Heritage issued a statement saying a five-member team was being instituted to assist Wylie—still receiving medical treatment after surgery—and he would direct operations from Texas.
But Khan said Heritage was important to Government and because of the challenge of Wylie’s illness, the new board was mandated to find “in the interim, a replacement CEO to continue work over the next six months, in which time we’ll have a better feel as to what Wylie’s health condition is before we take any further decisions.”
Interim CEO made no sense - Imbert
However, Imbert immediately told reporters there would be no “interim” CEO and a permanent replacement is ahead.
He said the view when Government learned of Wylie’s absence was that a permanent replacement must be found immediately.
“...Someone with the same level of experience and qualifications, so it’s not going to be an interim solution. It’ll be to find a permanent replacement for Mr Wylie. We’ve instructed the company that they have to fill that position immediately with a suitable replacement,” Imbert said.
“We think Heritage is too important to the economy and TT’s sovereign credit rating to allow a situation to continue and remain in limbo, where this gentleman was brought in at great expense with high hopes, (but) who is unfortunately ill through no fault of his own .”
Imbert noted Heritage’s press release about its plan to operate in Wylie’s absence. But he said information Government received a few weeks ago was that Wylie was already absent for a month or two and his doctors said he couldn’t return to T&T physically to take on the rigours of the job for a further six months.
He said Heritage’s proposed interim leadership team “... Wasn’t consistent with what we felt should be done. We felt a company as important as this should have a replacement CEO - a subject matter expert - immediately. The company will not be run by any team of people over the next six months.
“We’re seeking and I think we’ve identified a potential replacement—I wouldn’t want to name yet—to run Heritage; somebody with the kind of expertise, qualifications and experience in the energy sector that’s required to run a company of this sort.”
Imbert said if Government hadn’t decided to have such a suitable replacement immediately, it would have had adverse implications for financing. He said for someone of Wylie’s leadership level to be absent from T&T for eight months “... doesn’t make any sense.”
On whether Government’s decision “trumped” Heritage’s plan, Imbert stressed, “We’ve taken a decision that we can’t continue with a team of people without subject matter expertise running such an important company.”
Asked if Wylie will be paid his full remuneration package, Imbert said, “What he’ll be paid, what he’s entitled to are matters we expect Mr Quamina, as a very experienced attorney, will handle. It’ll be addressed the best way with good industrial relations practice. Mr Quamina has a lot of IR and Industrial Court experience.
“Our concern is getting oil production up as it’s affecting T&T’s sovereign credit rating. It’d be irresponsible as Government to have a company head being out of T&T running a company by remote control for six months.”
Noting daily revenue of US$300,000, Imbert said the cost of any settlement would be insignificant to what T&T could lose in oil production with an absent CEO.
“The returns we’re putting into a permanent replacement far outweigh any settlement they may have with Wylie,” he said.
In November 2018, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in Parliament that Wylie’s remuneration package was US$450,000 annually - about TT$240,000 monthly- plus housing, transportation and health.
The T&T Guardian learned Wylie has a three-year contract. Khan said he hoped the new board will build on Wylie’s plans. He said though Heritage declared a substantial profit, there are still issues to deal with, biggest being to get production up as soon as possible.
Espinet didn’t answer calls yesterday nor did Quamina. Sources said a Heritage board member with energy sector experience is tipped as CEO.
UNC says good riddance
United National Congress deputy leader David Lee yesterday welcomed Espinet’s departure from the energy companies.
“Mr Espinet’s departure is long overdue. He destroyed Petrotrin and surrounding communities. We have information Espinet wasn’t told he was being fired, which is what occurred it seems,” Lee said.
However, he added, “We have concerns about Michael Quamina as his replacement, since he’s known to be an associate of the Prime Minister. Also, what is Quamina’s energy experience to be able to head a company of this kind? He’s an attorney. We have no confidence in the energy sector now, given these players on the three boards.”
Lee also questioned outgoing HDC chairman Newman’s George move to the energy-based companies.
“We also have HDC chairman George heading Paria and Guaracara which have Petrotrin’s land assets and he’s the House Speaker’s husband. We also noted the difference in explanations from Minister Khan and Imbert on Mike Wylie’s replacement.
“But the bigger question is what will it cost taxpayers for Wylie’s exit package for his very short tenure and would we be responsible for his medical bills in the US?”
Also contacted yesterday, Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) general secretary Richard Lee said the leadership was in a meeting on the Unilever issue. But former union branch official and Trinmar employee Shankar Teelucksingh said, “We have no remorse in saying Espinet should have been sent packing long ago—he’ took out’ 50,000 workers in T&T.
“We hope he knows how it feels to be fired. He’s now feeling the backlash of his work. Government needs to tell us how much was paid to Wylie for his non-performance and where is the production which was expected.”
Finance Minister Colm Imbert said HDC chairman Newman George is completing the second of two terms at HDC and by law isn’t allowed more. He said the completion of his HDC stint will allow for transition into the Paria and Guaracara chairmanships, which are critical enterprises.
TPHL BOARD - Michael Quamina (chairman), Reynold Adjodhasingh (deputy), Newman George, Anthony Chan Tack, Joel Harding, Selwyn Lashley, Eustace Nancis.
HERITAGE - Michael Quamina (chairman), Newman George (deputy) Reynold Adjodhasingh, Selwyn Lashley, Joel Harding, Ryan Toby, George Leonard Lewis, Peter Clarke, Reeza Saleem.
PARIA - Newman George (chairman), Eustance Nancis, Christine Sahadeo, Peter Clarke, Reeza Saleem.
GUARACARA - Newman George (chairman), Anthony Chan Tack, Peter Clarke, Christine Sahadeo.