Letter: PM must address parliament on billion-dollar loans scandal

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Dear Sir:

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must fully account to the people of Trinidad and Tobago on all aspects of the secret negotiations of multibillion-dollar loans for Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Company by a nonelected public official.

The loans, worth up to US$1.4 billion, would add to Trinidad and Tobago’s onerous debt burden, which has reached a staggering TT$28 billion (US$4.1 billion) under the Rowley regime.

The incompetent and irresponsible government has placed the bargaining process into the hands of Wilfred Espinet, who is well-known for the privatisation of Trinidad Cement Limited to Mexican firm, Cemex.

Espinet is also remembered for his blatant anti-worker stance during the process of the shutdown of taxpayer-owned Petrotrin.

He had to be restrained by his attorneys in his contemptuous statements about the Industrial Court.

Espinet has never faced the electorate but evidence reveal that has more power and authority in the Rowley administration than most members of Cabinet.

The government’s decision to place the loan negotiations into the hands of Espinet is only one aspect of cloak-and-dagger financial dealings involving Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Company.

The secrecy of the negotiations is typical of the government, which had taken relevant legislation to parliament a mere 17 days before the shutdown of Petrotrin, the country’s largest state corporation.

The terms and conditions of the loans and the process utilised to secure them are also sources of great national concern, and reflect the government’s recklessness and ineptitude with the national purse.

The terms of the loans are critical because of the PNM government’s prior carelessness and freewheeling manner in obtaining funding for Petrotrin.

During a previous PNM administration a decade ago, Petrotrin took a US$850 million (almost TT$6 billion) ten year loan at a whopping interest rate of 9.5 percent – when 2 percent was the prevailing market rate.

Petrotrin also negotiated a 15-year US$750 million (more than TT$5 billion) bond, at 6 percent interest rate.

That loan could also have been secured at no more than 2.5 percent.

Both loans were negotiated by Malcolm Jones, Petrotrin’s then-executive chairman and the PNM’s much-touted energy czar.

Jones later defended the interest rates at a hearing of a parliamentary committee.

Jones also presided over the US$3.3 billion World Gas-to-Liquids (WGTL) scandal.

The Rowley regime subsequently withdrew public litigation for breach of fiduciary duties.

Rowley and several members of the current administration were members of the government during the period of the flagrant financial irresponsibility.

In the succeeding decade since those costly loans were negotiated, taxpayers have repaid a monstrous TT$8 billion (US$1.2 billion) – only in interest!

When the payments on the principals are added, taxpayers have repaid $18.4 billion.

The huge costs of the loans compound the massive cost and time overruns on several major projects during the tenure of the previous PNM government.

They include the Gas Optimisation plant, the Ultra-low-sulphur Diesel project and the aborted company headquarters, which remains an ugly white elephant and a showpiece of the PNM’s incompetence.

Against that backdrop of being fast-and-loose with taxpayers’ funds, the Rowley regime has placed financial negotiations into the hands of Espinet, who does not answer to parliament or any of its committees.

Espinet is known for his trademark flippancy and arrogance.

In addition, the government must explain the selection of financial agencies for negotiating the large loans.

This is a great interest because of the ruling regime’s lack of transparency with public procurement and the refusal to grant the requisite legislative authority to the Procurement Regulator.

The entire issue is scandalous, highly disturbing and is a grave reflection of the government’s haughtiness and its disrespect for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

The matter highlights the Rowley regime’s glaring ineptitude, its lack of public accountability and its growing authoritarianism.

I call on all nationals committed to democracy and good governance to speak out on this outrageous and questionable state of affairs.

I also demand that the prime minister address parliament on this alarming and unseemly issue.

Dr Tim Gopeesingh
Member of Parliament for Caroni East

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