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That's Insulting, Mr Prime Minister

November 04, 2001
By Raffique Shah

PRIME Minister Basdeo Panday, whose wheel-and-deal government has run into yet another multi-million-dollar scandal over the uncertain status of the InnCogen power plant, brushed aside legitimate queries about the failed venture by saying, "Well, InnCogen did save us from a nationwide blackout recently." His assertion that all of Powergen's generators tripped at one time is at best questionable, maybe even a lie. But how dare he justify this colossal waste of taxpayers' money by suggesting that we were saved from a "blackout" one day or night? I find his response was not just insulting, but worse, he must believe that most people in the country are jackasses.

What is galling about the collapse of Innercob and York Research Corporation (YRC) (InnCogen's parent company) facing bankruptcy is that Panday was warned about YRC's unstable financial situation and Inncob's unrealistic pipe dreams well before he turned the sod to start construction in 1998. I recall doing some research on YRC on the Internet and learning that the company, which is not a big name in the power generation business in the USA, was in an unhealthy financial position back then. Its lucrative contract with T&TEC, facilitated by the government, was therefore a godsend at the time.

Several concerned citizens, journalists, and the official opposition, the PNM, called on the government to justify the establishment of a co-generation plant that would supply T&TEC with electricity that it did not need. When they popped champagne at the official turning of the sod, we learned that the deal (no tenders were invited-YRC was simply selected) meant that T&TEC was contracted to buy every kilowatt of power InnCogen generated, whether or not T&TEC needed it, for 30 years! YRC principals were laughing all the way to the bank, cash in the bag, in a manner of speaking. And Panday himself was so drunk with the additional power he now had, he put on his "beast face" and shouted at TV6 reporter Natalie Williams: "That's insulting! That's insulting!"

The deal stank from the start. There was going to be no "co-generation", since the other plants Innercob said it would establish were never feasible. I remember asking if Anthony Sabga's glass/bottle plant had to import silica from Guyana and recycle bottles to meet its requirements, where the hell was Narine Singh going to get silica for a new plant? There was a deafening silence, both from the wolves who were scheming to rip us all off, and the UNC lambs who, through their collective stupidity, were leading us down the path of destruction.

With respect to ethanol, I argued that such a plant made little sense in an oil and gas-rich economy, because if it did, other local conglomerates or international firms operating in the energy sector here would have long capitalised on it. The paper and particle board plants were also pipe dreams that were destined to turn into financial nightmares, but no one listened. So the whole Innercob/InnCogen thing was akin to a confidence trick that smart people could smell from a mile.

Let me elaborate some more (I wrote several lengthy articles on this back in 1998). Powergen has the capacity to produce more than 1,100 megawatts of electricity at any time, once all its generators are functioning. It is contracted to sell to T&TEC close to 900 megawatts on an ongoing basis; its contract also includes holding a "spinning reserve" of 100 megawatts that T&TEC can demand at any time, but for which Powergen is not paid unless it is used. The maximum demand for power in the country, at peak time, is around 800 megawatts. Bear in mind, too, that most of the big industrial plants located in Trinidad have their own co-generation facilities, so they do not rely completely on T&TEC to supply their needs. That's the reason these plants continue operating even when there are power failures.

So that InnCogen's 200 megawatts of power is not critical to our national electricity grid. It never was. It was simply a scheme hatched among devious and greedy UNC politicians and financiers to enable them to pocket millions of dollars at the expense of electricity consumers-meaning most of the population. Because InnCogen and Innercob got prime Caroni land at peppercorn rates (around TT $10,000 an acre per annum). InnCogen coming on stream did not mean lower electricity rates for consumers or big profits (or lower losses) for T&TEC. If anyone at T&TEC has the cojones to speak out, the nation would learn that the utility is in no better finincial position now than it was before InnCogen.

At the launch, the Prime Minister tried to ease fears among sugar workers and residents who live close to the plant by swearing that the plant was safe. He also lifted their hopes by saying many unemployed youths would find new and exciting jobs at the power plant and the other four plants Innercob was committed to build. That never happened: of the handful of employees on InnCogen's payroll, few are from the adjacent villages.

The highly touted "industrial estate", conceived in sin by these greedy politicians and financiers, is dying in childhood of corruption-related HIV. And blame for this multi-million-dollar hoax falls squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and his sidekick Ganga Singh, who both sold us cow dung packaged as organic cereal. These men must be made to pay for their sins of omission (not finding out the truth about Innercon and InnCogen before tying generations to an unholy deal). I don't know if they have committed other sins in the process, but clearly, it is imperative that whatever government takes office on December 11 owes it to the nation to institute a Commission of Inquiry into this disgraceful affair.

The InnCogen stink is but the tip of a huge iceberg of corruption for which people must call for thorough investigations, for justice. Regrettably, those who are blinded by party loyalty justify "UNC t'iefing" by pointing to corruption in past PNM governments. In other words, accept the worst forms of immorality in public office because others did it however many years ago, and most of all because "is we people" who are doing it now. As retired Justice Lennox Deyalsingh wrote recently, such people should hold their noses when they vote, such is the stench that emanates from the stateroom of the UNC. And the PM must stop insulting our intelligence by spewing lies and half-truths. At his age he should be making peace with himself and with Bhagwan, preparing for his after-life, whatever form that may take.

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