A Perspective on Petrotrin. Is it in meh backyard?

Looming on the horizon in Trinidad and Tobago is the shutdown of the Petrotrin Oil Refinery, which has stirred up a hornet’s nest in this already fragile economy. Much has been published on why this once buoyant enterprise, which has been the main stay of the economy for over 40 years, has imploded on itself. Was it due to:

  • mismanagement by the board?
  • over-employment by the company?
  • an industrial culture which promoted ‘squander mania’, subservience, and lack of trust?
  • a lack of nationalistic values and ownership that facilitated unethical work standards, low productivity and wastage of resources?

Opinions differ, but hidden among the populace of the country are whispers of the words greed and selfishness.

Greed is defined as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed” and selfishness is defined as “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others” (Merriam-Webster, n.d).

Emphatically, these seemed to be two of the core determinants in Petrotrin’s downfall for the following reasons.

An opinion stated in the Guardian newspaper on Sept 2nd ,2018 by Dr. R. Hosein presents a very interesting scenario. He stated that:

OW­TU con­tin­ued to play a very heavy hand at the re­fin­ery and pushed wages sig­nif­i­cant­ly above the in­dus­try av­er­age. For ex­am­ple, us­ing da­ta by the En­er­gy Cham­ber in 2017, for a pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tor, the in­dus­try av­er­age was $14,000 (TT), whilst the Petrotrin min­i­mum month­ly was 42.9 per cent high­er for the same job clas­si­fi­ca­tion—$20,000 (TT). As con­cerns tech­ni­cal crafts­men, the in­dus­try av­er­age was $17,500 (TT) and the cor­re­spond­ing min­i­mum month­ly at Petrotrin was $21,000 (TT), a mark-up pre­mi­um of 20 per cent… For en­gi­neer/ge­ol­o­gist, the in­dus­try av­er­age was $20,000 (TT) and the min­i­mum Petrotrin month­ly was $24,000 (TT), a wage pre­mi­um of 20 per cent. These types of wage pre­mi­ums mo­ti­vat­ed by the be­hav­iour of the union es­ca­lat­ed costs of the com­pa­ny. In­deed, man­pow­er costs at Petrotrin es­ca­lat­ed to 50 per cent of to­tal op­er­at­ing costs.  (http://www.guardian.co.tt/opinion/knockon-effects-of-closing-petrotrin-refinery-6.2.657045.4a858a1482)

Added to this, Ramdass (2018) reported that Petrotrin’s:

  • staff expenditure makes up 50 percent of total costs ($2.3 billion per year);
  • general expenditure surpasses its earnings;
  • debt and manpower costs are high and escalating; and
  • productivity is low (has a capacity to produce 140,000 barrels but only produces 40,000 barrels per day).

Furthermore, Sookraj (2018) reported that the Oilfield Workers and Trade Union (OWTU) president accused Petrotrin executives of awarding themselves high pensions, bonuses and salaries. In addition, Hassanali (2018, para 1) maintained that the company’s monthly overtime bill amounted to “$22 million, while its annual wage bill to its 5,000 employees amounts to $2 billion.” The former was later adjusted to $400 million.

How could this happen? Wasn’t anyone aware of Petrotrin’s revenue and expenditure over the years? Or was it ignored at the expense of self-gratification?

It is worthwhile to consider, that there are no positive prospects where greed is concerned. While we may still have a level of pride to dress appropriately, we do not need any level of greed to do anything correctly. Greed brings grief, causes fighting, dishonesty, self -indulgence, wickedness, deceit, and a curse. “It has no boundaries to tell it where to stop.” (Jameson,2018). It also comes at a cost!

In Trinidad & Tobago on a macro scale the costs were:

  • a high import bill and negative balance of trade
  • decrease in our National GDP
  • high fuel prices
  • increased unemployment

Direct costs are:

  • $900 million to subsidize liquid fuels to the population
  • $10 billion in national debt
  • Importation cost of 100,000 Barrels of oil per day

The social costs are:

  • Increased cost of living as fuel prices rise and create a multiplier effect on transportation
  • Inability to adequately supply for the needs of one’s family due to unemployment.

On the other hand, contentment, balance, outward consideration, integrity, and honesty are qualities which yield storehouses of blessings.

So where did this “greed” originate?

According to Dr. Marlon Jameson, its roots could be found within the very fabric of splintered society, which is adequately fueled by competition and individualism (selfishness). There is no allegiance to anything or anyone other than self. I need money, I need a raise, I am going to protest, I don’t care if the government has money, I have needs, I can help out this friend because he/she may be able to help me at another time. No attention or compassion is extended to other entities, unless it ultimately benefits me. Selfishness, just like greed would cannibalize itself and the places where it operates.

Who at Petrotrin were manning the gates to ensure that these two destructible entities were kept at bay? Where were the officials or managers who were entrusted to ensure the proper functioning of the company and create balance and profit?

It seemed that “eating ah food” was the order of the day and checks and balances were kicked out of the door.

If this does not teach us a valuable lesson on greed and selfishness, then there would be more closures to come. Let’s introspect and ensure that these words are not a part of our operations, before it is too late.

References

Greed. (n.d). In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved October 23rd, 2018, from
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greed

Hassanili, S. (2018). Petrotrin’s overtime bill stands at 22 million. CNC 3 Covering
Your World
. Retrieved from https://www.cnc3.co.tt/press-release
/petrotrins-overtime-bill-stands-22-million

Hosein, R. (2018, September 2). Knock-on effects of closing Petrotrin’s refinery.
Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.tt
/opinion/knockon-effects-of-closing-petrotrin-refinery-6.2.657045.4a858
a1482.

Jameson, M. (2018). Globalization [PowerPoint Presentation].

Ramdass, N. (2018, August, 29). Petrotrin’s refinery shutdown explained (and why
it was done). Loop News. Retrieved from http://www.looptt.com/content
/petrotrins-refinery-shutdown-explained-and-why-it-was-done.

Selfishness. (n.d). In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved October 23rd, 2018, from
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/selfishness

Sookraj, R. (2018). OWTU calls for Petrotrin audit. Guardian. Retrieved from
http://www.tobagotoday.co.tt/news/2016-08-09/owtu-calls-petrotrin-
audit

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