ESPINET THE NEW ENERGY UNTOUCHABLE?

Ian Forde was fired as a director of a government-owned company hours after he attended a UNC public meeting.

Wilfred Espinet is still the national energy heavy-roller even after a string of major blunders and misstatements.

Moral of the story: It is more detrimental to embarrass the PNM than the country.

The removal of Forde from the MTS directorship is a non-story, of course, since the government would expect that he would be aligned to its policies and programmes.

But Espinet!

His latest public gaffe has been glossed over in a benign statement from Energy Minister Franklyn Khan, who meekly said the advertisement for sale of Paria Trading was issued “inadvertently.”

Huh?!

Espinet was earlier quoted as telling journalist Asha Javeed: “I can think of no strategic reason for the State to keep Paria Fuel as long as T&T’s security of fuel supply and competitiveness of fuel pricing can be guaranteed.”

So, Espinet, the strongman in the State energy sector, placed Paria Fuel up for sale.

He also believes, according to the newspaper report, that the privatisation of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and Paria should go together.

The government remained steadfastly silent on the issue for more than a day, as critics speculated on the parcelling off of Paria to corporate cronies.

Then, the low-lying Khan emerged to announce that Paria “is a strategic asset that plays a very important role in ensuring the security of supply of liquid petroleum fuels…”

Clearly, the minister and his chairman hold radically differing positions on the strategic function of this successor company to Petrotrin.

That’s fine.

Contrasting views often take place along the corridors of power.

But in issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for Paria, it was evident that Espinet had taken a unilateral decision.

Khan said that Trinidad Petroleum was directed to “withdraw and retract” the RFP.

How could Espinet have adopted such a far-reaching and calculated stand without sign-off from his minister?

Is he a lone wolf in the billion-dollar State energy sector?

Has he taken other important decisions without his boss’ knowledge and compliance?

Note that Espinet had earlier made contentious statements about Petrotrin’s workers and had publicly rebuffed the Industrial Court.

Company lawyers had “muzzled” the chairman after an outburst, in which he said that the Court and trade unions were “out-of-touch” with the realities.

The overall Petrotrin issue remains a national flashpoint, and the government has run into severe criticism for its handling of all aspects of the dismantling of the largest State corporation.

Why, then, is the government clutching onto a chairman who is a lightning rod for controversy?

Now, successive PNM administrations have promoted energy czars.

Dr. Eric Williams had Dr. Ken Julien construct and overlook Point Lisas Industrial Estate and chair a number of State enterprises.

Julien was a public sector powerhouse, with fabled authority to walk into the prime minister’s office.

He essentially reported to no Cabinet minister.

Malcolm Jones, as executive chairman of Petrotrin, was a virtual heir apparent to Julien, and a confidante of Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

Manning once termed Jones his best friend.

The chairman’s legacy must include the World Gas-To-Liquids (WGTL) plant fiasco, which cost taxpayers $3.3 billion.

Litigation against Jones and fellow directors for breach of fiduciary duties in the WGTL saga were mysteriously withdrawn by the current administration.

No one has taken responsibility for the decision.

Now enter Espinet, a private sector hawk with little time for workers, their representatives and the legal system.

At the time of the Petrotrin closure, he spoke of the dismissals of all workers in a tone that jarred many people.

Khan this week belatedly said that the Energy Ministry would maintain oversight over the restructuring of Petrotrin.

But is Espinet the de facto successor to Julien and Jones as the new energy heavyweight?

With his deadpan, no-nonsense manner, is he the new untouchable

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