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Rescuing and transforming Petrotrin

Published: 
Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Tony Rakhal-Fraser

To transform Petrotrin and all other state enterprises trapped in the headlock of politics, outmoded management systems which foster gross inefficiencies, corruption, technological backwardness, conflicting objectives amongst the shareholder, executive management and the union—all of the above articulated lucidly in the Lashley and Solomon reports—requires “root and branch” change.

Such change can only be achieved (or is best done) through constitutional reform. The reform mechanisms must allow for governments to be elected/selected on the basis of competence to establish an economic platform for enterprise and innovation in both the public and private sectors.

It’s from such a basis that state enterprises such as Petrotrin can be (re) established to best utilise the resources (physical and human) of the country in the interest of citizens and the society. Mere technical solutions as contained in the above-named reports and those from economists, energy experts, and management gurus will meet a wall of indifference and ignorance from the agendas of political administrations.

Petrotrin, all elements of it, has been allowed to reach the state that it has over a 35-year period through misconceived plans and programmes for development and the poor management practices identified in the reports. These problems were masked during periods of high oil prices when the revenue was spread everywhere.

Governments, ministers, unable to adequately monitor these enterprises, boards and executive management, selected on the basis of political affiliation, have defaulted on their responsibility. Little more is needed to convince all of us that there must be a major departure from what has been attempted with the state enterprises sector, Petrotrin in this instance.

The reports on the state of Petrotrin, not merely the refinery, should be serialized in the newspapers.

The state enterprises failure, minus the few success stories listed last week—and I take the point of Gregory McGuire that NGC should be added to the list—and there are others. However, as he also noted, that company was seriously injured by the political actions of a government during the 2010-2015 period when revenue from the company was splattered every political where.

It must, however, never be forgotten that the expanded state sector has been forced into existence by a private sector that for the most part is lacking in dynamism, is shorn of innovation and unwilling and or incapable of the risk-taking entrepreneurship required to produce for export markets and to replace imports.

My core contention is that ultimately change is needed to the political system through which we elect parties and MPs based on party political and tribal affiliation. We then expect such parties and individuals to become effective governments and ministers with knowledge and capacity for enlightened governance, inclusive of policymaking for sophisticated billion-dollar enterprises.

The point was made in two previous columns that the difficult problems attendant on the Petrotrin refinery—Petrotrin, did not arise overnight but have been allowed to accumulate over the last 35 years of state acquisition of the company.

Like others, I am of the view that separating elected representatives of the people from governmental and ministerial responsibility through an adapted version of the American system. When that is done we can then place non-elected people with the technical expertise and experience in ministerial positions.

Evolving such a system will require the meaningful participation of ordinary people conscientised into understanding that they must be involved in shaping, managing and monitoring national affairs.

I am heartened by the stated intention of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union to take up the offer of Prime Minister Rowley to revive the refinery.

Without reference to the technical workability or not of the proposals so far articulated by OWTU President General Ancel Roget, it is encouraging that the union boss is now indicating an interest in leasing the refinery.

It is also of relevance that the OWTU is hinting at a partnership with a foreign private entity. That is a recognition by the OWTU that capital, technology, modern management systems, personnel, and marketing links have to be made with foreign direct investment.

Today’s conflict is over the refinery; tomorrow’s even greater task will be to transform the exploration and production elements of Petrotrin. It is inconceivable that only the refinery has been mismanaged; the reports show the problems to be everywhere—do we have the courage and capacity to meet the challenge?

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