• Labour not invited on PETROTRIN Board

    Newsday September 6, 2018

    THE EDITOR: Permit me to respond to just one of the many incorrect and misleading statements made by the Prime Minister in his address to the nation on Sunday.

    Dr Rowley stated, “I also invited labour to sit on the new board of Petrotrin but that too was declined.” This is false.

    For the record, and this was made public by me at an MSJ media conference on September 3, 2017, just two days after the PM announced the new Petrotrin board at Piarco just before flying out to the US for medical tests, I was invited by Rowley to be a member of the board. I turned down the offer.

    To be clear, labour (namely the OWTU) was not invited to sit on the board. I, as the political leader of the MSJ, was asked as an individual. This was different from my being on the Lashley Committee as the OWTU requested that I serve as one of its two representatives on that ad hoc body.

    I was called by the Prime Minister on the evening of August 29, 2017, and offered the Petrotrin board position. I requested until the following morning to consider the request. On the very evening of the 29th I asked the PM via text message the following: “PM 2 quick questions – who is to chair the board; and is the Cabinet considering the Review Committee’s (now referred to as the Lashley Committee) recommendation for a new governance arrangement for Petrotrin with an ‘arm’s length’ relationship between the board and Govt?”

    Rowley replied: “We will settle on a chairman at Cabinet ... it all depends on what you mean by arm’s length? If you mean having authority to take action the answer is yes. But there has to be a guide called government policy.”

    By text the following morning I declined the request in the following words: “I have a difficulty, however, and that is why I asked you about the Government’s position re the governance arrangement as recommended by the Review Committee. We recommended that the board be appointed in a process that involved key stakeholders; that the board members serve terms that were not constrained by the electoral cycle but similar to private sector arrangements that provide for a certain continuity; among others.

    “I would have great difficulty in accepting an appointment to the board that is not consistent with the recommendations of the committee of which I was a member. It would appear that I was either not in agreement with the recommendations or that I did not believe them to be right. Neither of which is the case.

    “In the circumstances, as a matter of principle, I regret that I cannot accept the offer. Please be assured that this is my reason. If the Cabinet accepts the committee’s recommendation re the board governance then I would reconsider the offer.”

    Rowley acknowledged this, “Thank you for considering.”

    It is to be noted that several other members of the (Lashley) Review Committee, namely Espinet and Lashley, had no such difficulty going against their own recommendations while Robert Riley and Leroy Mayers, who also were members of the committee (Mayers was co-opted), are working with the Petrotrin Board. Helen Drayton, to her credit, was also asked to serve on the board and she declined.

    If all the Lashley Committee members had accepted Petrotrin Board appointments it would have looked as if, in an act of cronyism, we were “creating a job for ourselves,” totally contrary to our recommendation for a transparent process of board appointments.

    One other fact. The Joint Trade Union Movement and the PNM in August 2015 signed a now infamous MOU. One of the provisions was that a PNM government would include labour representatives on state boards. While I served as the OWTU general secretary, the union submitted names of our nominees to the Government for several state boards, including Petrotrin. In spite of repeated efforts to have these people considered consistent with the MOU, none were appointed.

    It should be noted that our nominee was not a Petrotrin employee. So Petrotrin’s board during the Rowley administration never had a labour rep on it. In that Rowley violated the MOU that he had signed.

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