UWI Professor Emeritus Kenneth Julien presented the nineteenth
Eric Williams Memorial Lecture at the Central Bank auditorium
on June 10.
In his presentation, Julien spoke about the leadership role
played by T&Ts late Prime Minister, Eric Williams,
in the development of the countrys energy sector.
Julien, who was the key lieutenant of Williams in building
T&Ts energy sector, discussed the contribution of
Williams to the energy sector by looking at the 25-year period
1956 to 1981 through the prism of ten defining moments.
Pre Independence 1956-1962
Eric Williams began laying the foundation for the creation
of a national energy sector as early as 1955, a year before
he assumed leadership of the country.
In his Peoples Charter he made reference to the energy
sector as follows:
(1) oil, where all the evidence, from the earliest
times, has indicated a subordination of local interests to
those of external capital.
No significant event that can be classified as a defining
moment in the emergence of a national energy sector occurred
for the next five years as the difficult process of transition
from colony tonation occupied the attention and resources
However, the groundwork was being laid, judging from the
several pronouncements of Eric Williams.
Defining Moment No 11963/1964
The Mostofi Commission
In 1963, one year after Independence, a commission was established
by the government with the following terms of reference:
(1) to examine the present situation and future prospects
of the oil industry of T&T in the context of the economics
of the world oil industry;
(2) to recommend a legal framework for the oil industry
of T&T which would stimulate the operations of foreign
investors while safeguarding the interests of the nation;
(3) to make recommendations designed to ensure the greatest
possible stability compatible with growth in the industry,
including the level of employment.
The commission was chaired by Baghair Mostofi with Hamil
L Legall as secretary.
The recommendations of this report led to major changes
in the legislation that governed petroleum activities in the
country and broadened the mandate of the Ministry of Petroleum
and Mines which had itself only been established in 1963.
Two defining moments rolled into one.
As interesting and far-reaching as the recommendations of
this commission, were the questions posed to the commission
by the government in its official submission are very significant:
1. Have we exploited the natural resources with diligence?
3. Has there been a just division of the proceeds of this
5. To what extend have we utilised the proceeds of the industry
for the betterment of the national as a whole?
7. To what extent have we undertaken the training of our
nationals for the further exploitation of these resources
in the national interest?
8. Have we taken adequate stock of our international position
in all our activities in the industry?
10. To what extent are laws which may have been appropriate
for the operations of the industry under the colonial system
compatible with the aims and aspirations and the status of
an independent nation pledged to a democratic form of government?
11. To what extent has there been a plan of development
for the industry and how far has this been coordinated in
the development plan for the nation as a whole?
We glean from these questions the hand of Eric Williams
as the concept of a national identity for the energy sector
began to develop.
These questions are relevant today as they were 42 years
Defining Moment No 2
Acquisition of BPs assets (1969)
This acquisition of BPs producing assets gave a clear
signal that Dr Williams had begun to take the steps in the
pursuit of a policy that will lead to the creation of a national
The joint venture with Tesoro Corporation to acquire the
local producing assets of BP was the first bold step of state
ownership in strategic industries.
It was prompted by the concern that the closing down of
BPs local production would have led to serious economic
and unemployment situation in the St Patrick area.
It tied in with the Eric Williams thinking articulatedas
early as July 1955in an address at the University of
Woodford Square he stated:
That there will come occasions when the State may
have to take the initiative as an investor, without prejudice
to the policy of encouraging and supporting private enterprise,
in order to protect and promote the national interest.
This bold step of investing in a complex industry such as
the petroleum sector, took courage and a strong political
A key defining moment less to do with the size of the investment
but more to do with this dramatic move.
Notwithstanding this bold move in the late sixties, one
gets a sense of Eric Williams struggling to find a clear strategy
and the resources to realise his dream and vision of a national
Three five-year plans were taken to Parliament and while
these hinted at this dream, the strategies so far as the energy
sector was concerned, were vague and not well articulated.
In the last five-year development plan 1969-1973, we read
a shopping list of petrochemicals, which became the subject
Methyl alcohol; etc
These were, as expected all based upon potential products
from an oil-based refinery.
None of these went beyond these initial studies and none
of them had little chance of being realised.
Of greater interest in that document, was the statistic
that over the period 1963 to 1968, the natural gas flared
was in excess of 50 per cent of the total gas produced.
This simple fact, while receiving no comment in the plan
was to trigger the Eric Williams strategy into looking at
natural gas for his strategy of industrialisation, rather
than oil-based products.
Defining Moment No 3
Natural gas discovered off the North Coast (1971)
The story of this discovery and the subsequent commercial
production of oil in 1972 is itself a fascinating one, in
which Eric Williams played a significant role in persuading
Amoco to have one last try, after a succession of dry holes.
That story will have to await another time, which time,
persons like Charlie Carr can provide the details.
No questionanother defining moment.
Defining Moment No 4
T&T National Petroleum Marketing Company established
by an Act of Parliament (1972) No 41
The purchase of BPs assets in 1969 led inevitably
to the need to the national ownership, and management of BPs
The Trinidad and Tobago National Petroleum Marketing Company
came into existence in 1972as a creature of Parliament
and took over the BPs local marketing activities. ESSO
followed in the same year. Then Shell. Then Texaco.
By December 1976, all the local marketing operations previously
owned and operated by multinationals were assigned to NationalTTPMC.
The word national appearing for the first time, associated
with the energy sector.
A National Petroleum Company had also been formed but never
functioneda story featuring Ben Primus and the late
The Energy Crisis (1974)
On January 1st 1974, Eric Williams made the first of five
nationwide addresses to the population, all treating with
the energy crisis that had impacted on all countries in the
Oil prices had jumped overnight from US $2.00/barrel to
$3.50 overnight and less than one year had reached $12.00.
The emergence of a national energy sector, which began in
the sixties, in a tentative manner now began to take a more
definite shape, catalyzed by discoveries of large reservoirs
of natural gas and the dramatic increase in oil prices.
Natural gas had crept onto the national agenda, and Eric
Williams clear message was that priority must be given
to our domestic plans of industrial diversification, fuelled
by natural gas.
Point Lisas and Point Fortin received formal attention in
his second address of February 14, 1974.
Plipdeco shifted majority ownership from the private sector
to the Governmenta necessary decision to afford the
substantial sums needed for its development.
Now there was natural gas in abundance with the producers
having no interest in its value. Oil was being chased for
its ready dollars. But certain critical other ingredients
Political willalways strong but fortified by the fact
that he was persuaded not to give up his leadership role in
Surplus dollars for investment
Human resources to support and implement the vision
At the political level, he found ready allies in:
Mervyn De Souza
And at the public service and technical level, there was
a group of enthusiastic technocrats:
All enthusiastic about following Eric Williams, as he took
the country down this bold passage in fulfillment of the vision.
Let me describe the environment of the mid-seventies to
illustrate the boldness of that journey:
Natural gasT&T had less than 1 per cent of the
natural gas reserves of the world;
We had never produced a single kg of steel;
No new habour or port facilities had been created since
Ammonia had been produced in limited amount since 1962,
but no new plant had been erected for 12 years;
nOur peak demand for electricity was 300MW the demand of
the steel plant was 180MWthe peak demand of the whole
Methanol was a foreign word;
A single 16 gas pipeline existed between Penal and
Port of Spain. There were no natural gas offshore or cross
The challenges to monetise our natural gas were forbidding
and formidable, including a skeptical national community that
had not historically identified with the energy sector.
Notwithstanding that environment and the challenges that
which this country faced defining moments came fast and furious.
Defining moment No 5Independence
Shell Trinidad became the T&T Oil
The changes of names of this company were significant:
UBOTUnited British Oilfields of Trinidad, ShellTrinidad
and then finally the National Identity emerged T&T OIl
CompanyTRINTOCAugust 31, 1974.
Here is an extract from his address, on that day:
As we proceed to lower the flag of yesterday (the
honour falls to the worker with the longest service in Shell,
42 years exactly today) and hoist the flag of today and tomorrow
and tomorrow, the flag of the nation as against the flag of
an external corporation, as we see the flag, our flag, flying
high and riding proud in the breeze, symbolising the ascent
of the nation and the higher destiny of the citizens of Point
Fortin, let us say, with pride but yet with humility, we are
going well, and may God bless our nation.
(Continued next week)