May 26, 2002
By Raffique Shah
KELVIN Ramnath, the UNC "returnee" who claims to have been politically victimised by the new PNM-appointed Board at Petrotrin, received a 77 per cent increase in salary between 1998 and 2001. He was elevated from his substantive position of Manager, Health, Safety and Environment, to that of Executive Manager, Public and Government Affairs during the latter part of the UNC's stint in power.
In the early days of Basdeo Panday's tenure as Prime Minister, he was still considered persona non-grata, having broken with Panday a few years earlier. In 2001 he jumped three "grades" (based on Petrotrin's salary levels), moving from a basic salary of $13,411 a month to $23, 703 a month. And a recommendation to remove him from reporting directly to the company's CEO/President, Rodney Jagai, was made to the Board before the UNC demitted office in December 2001.
These hard facts that contradict Ramnath's charges of political discrimination were revealed to the Sunday Express by an irate manager who felt allegations on the UNC platform of "ethnic cleansing" at WASA and Petrotrin were "wholly unfounded". "I was shocked to hear both Ramnath and Panday make these allegations," the mid-level manager said. "A number of very senior people were affected by the restructuring of company by the new Board, but race was never the consideration as far as we, who have worked in the bowels of the oil company for many years, are concerned. A number of managers of other races were also affected, but we haven't heard them complain."
And documents shown to this newspaper confirmed what he argued. When Rodney Jagai was made President/CEO, his team of senior managers who reported directly to him comprised 13 executives. Of those, nine were Indians, two were Afro-Trinidadians and another two of mixed racial origins. Jagai himself recognised the unwieldy management structure, and wrote in a report dated October 2, 2001, that recommended changes at the executive and senior management levels.
"These changes are considered to be critical to the effective functioning of the President and the executive team. At this time, there are 13 members on this team with eight of them at the executive council level. It is the intention to reduce the President's number of direct reports so as to ensure the necessary focus on core strategic issues."
Regarding Ramnath's position, Jagai wrote: "It is also intended that the Executive Manager, Public and Government Affairs (and Executive Manager, New Business) not be part of the Executive Council. However, due to the sensitivity of the EMPGA's job, he could report to the President on specific matters as determined by the President while for administrative matters he could report to the VP, Human Resources and Corporate Administration." Our source said that clearly, from the above memorandum, the intention was to "clip Ramnath's wings well before the PNM came to power". "Why are they blaming the current government and board? Ramnath knew that restructuring at that level was underway under the UNC, and the new board was only following through."
In fact, the new chairman, Malcolm Jones, who declined to speak with Sunday Express, has earlier stated that those senior managers who were removed from reporting directly to the President did not lose their increased salaries and perks. "And that, in my view, is damn nonsense!" said the mid-level manager. "Imagine Ramnath continues to earn upwards of $23,000 a month, and that does not include perks like executive cars and housing and a host of other allowances that would increase his emoluments by about 25 per cent. He should have reverted to his previous salary of $11,000 a month."
If Ramnath's case raises eyebrows, then that of Aleem Hosein would cause ordinary Prtrotrin workers to raise hell. Hosein, who was taken from Petrotrin and made manager of Trinmar, received a salary hike of 138 per cent in 2001! His salary shot up from $15,345 a month to $36,500 a month. Others who received hefty increases included Garry Solomon and Asgar Ali-Hosein (80 per cent-from $11,996 a month to $21,582), Roy Lloyd ($11,996 to $21,582), Carl Jagdeo (75 per cent-from $13,411 to $23,455), Victor Young On ($12,667 to $21,607) and Jeanne Hospedales ($12,667 to $21,607). In fact, among 32 senior managers, all but four received 50 per cent or more in salary increases. The lowest in this group moved up from $10,328 to $15,298.
Interestingly, too, among a broader 52 senior-to-mid-level managers at Petrotrin, all of whom receive more than $14,000 a month, 29 are Indo-Trinidadians. Nineteen are Afro-Trinidadians and another four of other ethnic stock. "So where's the evidence of 'ethnic cleansing'," asked our source. "What the public does not know, too, is that many of the senior managers get luxury housing with special security-in addition to Petrotrin's regular security at the company's main gates. They enjoy superior grade vehicles, drivers and many other perks. I am really interested to hear what Errol McLeod (president of the representative trade union., OWTU) has to say about this. He was on the board, so he must have known about some of these packages. And how much did his workers get at the end of the last negotiations-12 per cent over three years, I believe?"
Contacted for comment, Petrotrin's Corporate Communications Manager, Oliver Flax, said the new board has decided on five vice-presidents to report directly to President Jagai. These are Khalid Hassanali (Executive Manager, Corporate Administration), Wayne Bertrand (Business Development), Kelvin Harnanan (Refining and Marketing), Kevin Singh (Finance) and a yet-to-be-named Vp, Human Resources. "This is in keeping with streamlining the company. Many people have been moved around. I myself have been shifted. So I don't know where this talk of 'ethnic cleansing' came from." Flax said one drawback the company suffered from since 1986 was the changes implemented by successive governments.
"Whenever a new government came to power since 1986, we have had changes at the board level and some changes at management level. This causes some instability in relation to the corporate vision and implementing changes," he added. Asked whether Ramnath suffered any loss of emoluments, he said, "No! He has merely gone back the head Health, Safety and Environment, where he was before being elevated to Executive Manager, Public and Government Affairs. Many others have also reverted to their previous positions and yet others have been shifted elsewhere."
Aleem Hosein, who was put in charge of Trinmar as a Small Business Unit (SBU) of Petrotrin, has taken vacation. "He may be looking at other interests," Flax said. "Since 1985, when Texaco finally pulled out of Trinidad (except for their shares in Trinmar), we have had a series of changes. And each one brought about changes in managers' portfolios. For example, the Trintopec/Petrotrin merger in 1992-93 brought about similar changes. It was under the UNC government that the idea of SBUs came up, and again, there were changes in the management structure. The new board, on the other hand, is seeking to centralise operations. That way, many duties that are currently duplicated in different SBUs will probably become redundant. And people often forget that Petrotrin is not in the healthiest of financial positions."
Copyright © Raffique Shah