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Raffique Shah


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A Challenge for Comrade Roget

By Raffique Shah
April 16, 2017

Let it be clear that I am not joining any chorus of condemnation of OWTU president-general Ancel Rouget for his remark on bpTT's decision to have its Angelin gas platform fabricated outside of Trinidad & Tobago, "Take your rig and go!" As a former unionist, I fully understand and accept sloganeering, bravado, and even outrageous statements as legitimate tools of the trade.

I however want to use the furore that erupted in its aftermath to make some points that might well be lost amidst the cacophony of anti-labour tirades.

The only thing I'll tell Comrade Rouget on the issue of the Angelin platform is however much he may rant against the oil giant BP being exploitative of T&T resources, the harsh reality is that today, and for many years now, this country needs all the oil majors more than they need T&T.

Why do I say this? T&T's proven oil reserves have stagnated at approximately 800 million barrels for almost a decade, and our current natural gas equivalent has dipped below 10 trillion cubic feet. For many reasons, oil production has slumped to 70,000 barrels per day (bpd), and gas below the benchmark 4.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d). If we manage to ramp up oil production to 100,000 bpd, and gas to the required 4.2 bcf/d, outside of any major discoveries, we shall have approximately 20 years' worth of oil and eight years' of gas.

In a world that is awash with oil and suffocating in gas, our reserves and production levels are piddling. To put them in graphic context, neighbouring Venezuela has oil reserves of 300 billion barrels and 200 trillion cubic feet of gas. And Guyana, where a few wells have been drilled in two reservoirs, has already declared recoverable oil of more than two billion barrels-almost three times ours.

So, were it not for having expended huge sums on exploration and development in T&T, and this country's thriving, though currently struggling, downstream energy industries, especially petrochemicals and LNG, BP, BHP or any of the other trans-nationals could easily "take their rigs and go".

None of these naked truths means that we should, as a sovereign nation, tolerate insults or other violations or exploitation from any of them. They must respect our laws, codes and safety regulations, which they seem to have done. Based on two Extractive Industries (TTEITI) reports, they appear to be paying substantial royalties and taxes. And although we are not privy to the numbers, we can assume they make healthy profits: after all, that's why they are in business.

Regarding the issue at hand, bpTT said it will not have the Angelin platform fabricated locally, meaning at the TOFCO facilities in La Brea. It cited the timeline-first gas is scheduled for 2019-and competiveness. Since bpTT has had six similar platforms constructed by TOFCO, and only the most recent (Juniper, 2014-2017) suffered from setbacks because of work stoppages, strikes and community protests, we can assume these latter were the main deterrents.

Comrade Roget knows that only too well since the OWTU was involved in some of them. Timelines are critical in such projects, especially as the energy sector has suffered costly gas shortages over the last five years. The workers in the Juniper project cited low wages and health and safety concerns for their disruptive actions. La Brea residents, who comprised 400 of the 750-workforce, wanted more jobs.

Unless the issues they raised were manifestly life- or limb-threatening, the workers jeopardised their own wellbeing, and the La Brea community theirs, by their ill-advised or precipitous actions. Let me put this another way: if similar work began at the TOFCO yard tomorrow, wouldn't the same workers and residents queue up for jobs? Would they then ignore wage rates and health and safety issues?

Comrade Roget, the loss of the Angelin project brings to fore the chronic work ethic and productivity plagues which, when combined with corruption at every level, but more so in the upper echelons of society, and gross mismanagement in the public sector and State enterprises, are taking us all down the fast lane to Hell, a failed State, and into the jaws of the IMF.

The OWTU, of which you are only the fifth leader in its 80-year history (isn't that something?), has a proud tradition of producing patriots by the miles. I had the honour of battling in the trenches alongside George Weekes, who, for all his weaknesses (who among us can claim otherwise?), oozed patriotism.

He invariably put country before

Now, you have a great opportunity to lead the blue-shirt army in the do-or-die battle to make productivity not merely a watchword, but a creed; to inspire a work ethic that changes our laissez faire culture; and to instill patriotism in people such that they take pride their jobs.

It's a tall order, and it calls for a giant-of-a-man (or woman) to even think of starting the revolution. But that's the calibre of leader required when a nation is in crisis.

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