The lead story in today’s Trinidad Express newspaper under the caption “Roget Knew” is puzzling. In the article, the author points to alleged minutes of a meeting between Prime Minister Keith Rowley and members of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) that seemingly suggest that the OWTU was informed by the PM that Petrotrin would have been exiting the refinery business.
So what’s journalistically puzzling about this? Well in the first place, it is debatable whether the minutes as reproduced, do in fact point to any revelation at all, of the closure of the oil refinery. In fact, from a literal construction, it appears only to speak to restructuring and not closure.
More importantly though, for this and any other average reader, it would appear that the journalist in question was making some attempt to defend the fact that the ill-fated announcement about the state company had been shrouded in mystery and that it was done in a clandestine, concealed and almost surreptitious manner.
Fact is that the minutes in question referred to an alleged meeting of August 21, 2018. This was mere days before the formal declaration of the fate of the oil refinery. There is nothing to suggest that a process was engaged that involved consultation, negotiation, co-operation and compromise. Clearly it appeared a done deal.
What therefore, is the point in suggesting that “Roget knew”? Was the intent merely to contradict Roget, to prove him wrong and someone else to be right?
What really is the relevance of pushing a storyline that the trade union or a trade union leader knew of imminent doom and gloom? Does informing the bargaining unit mere days before of such a significant administrative intervention liberate the government from a duty to care and from its need to be compassionate? Does Roget knowing or not knowing ease the bitter controversy surrounding the closure of the company? Does it soften the blow for thousands of workers and their dependants?
Should we pardon the government for not being dedicated in its quest for alternatives simply because Roget knew? Do we forgive government’s silence on its new strategic vision and initiatives geared towards making the company profitable merely because Roget knew?
What great news it would have been had the headline read instead, “The People Knew”; one that pointed to a process that was open, free, fair and politically transparent. With a prime minister appointed Cabinet Energy Sub-Committee in place and another specific Petrotrin Review Committee, one would have expected greater transparency in the build-up to the company’s announced closure.
Surely the disquiet, frustration and desperation of a nation would have been almost negligible if the government could have boasted of having meaningful dialogue with stakeholders. A more laudable headline too, would have been “The Parliament Knew”, only if the government had the wisdom to take the matter to the House to be debated by those who have been constitutionally elected to represent the people.
A Parliament in recess that gave way to appoint a commissioner of police would have surely opened its doors to debate the future of thousands of workers.
Perhaps the most anticipated editorial piece would be, “How long did Prime Minister Rowley know”; one that examines the reports of the various sub-committees, inquires into government’s planning and one that traces the last straw which broke Petrotrin’s back.
At the end of the day, political governance in civilized democracies must not be premised on whether “he knew or she knew”. Surely it would be of more material consequence and relevance for the government to promote the right of the citizens to know.