A $1.7 million contract buyout to a hired foreigner whose services were eventually deemed not necessary, some $23,770 spent on catering lunch for two days and millions paid to consultants and recruitment companies.
The figures were laid out by Opposition senator Gerald Ramdeen in his contribution to yesterday’s Senate debate on the vesting of Petrotrin assets to Heritage Petroleum, Paria Fuel Trading Company and Guaracara Refining.
“It is a web of illegality taking place left, right and center,” Ramdeen said.
He said the three companies were all incorporated on October 5, 2018 and Petrotrin paid law firm Johnson Camacho and Sons some $168,988 for a few minutes of work.
“All it (incorporation process) requires is somebody sitting in an office and filling in the blanks. This Petrotrin wants to tell the country that they have no money, that they’re bankrupt,” Ramdeen said.
Ramdeen also provided what he claimed was detailed evidence of wild spending by the Petrotrin board even as the company is winding down to total shutdown by the end of the month. He vouched for the authenticity of the documents he quoted from, saying they were not dropped in his mailbox but rather leaked to him by a People’s National Movement (PNM) Cabinet member and a member of the Petrotrin board.
“You know what was told to me when it was given to me by a member of that Cabinet led by the Honourable Keith Christopher Rowley? They said, ‘Ramdeen, we want you to expose this’ because we don’t have any choice in the Cabinet when they bring it, we just have to agree,” Ramdeen said.
Ramdeen said according to a letter he had, which was sent by Petrotrin to Energy Minister Franklin Khan and dated August 8, Chyau Lin, from Chicago, was retained by Petrotrin to work on the downstream aspects of the new company. However, when it was later determined the company would no longer be moving to downstream—Petrotrin had to “reimburse” Lin for his signed contract.
According to the letter, obtained by Guardian Media, Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet wrote to Khan seeking assistance to secure Lin’s work permit.
“Petrotrin is currently involved in a reorganisation exercise aimed at inter alia assigning the requisite skillset to ensure Petrotrin’s business survival and growth. Following our review of the top management at Petrotrin, it was determined that a Head Downstream executive was a critical deficiency,” the letter stated.
Petrotrin said it had conducted an international search and “after an exhaustive process” Lin was chosen. The process to recruit Lin began back in June, three months before Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley formally announced the shutdown of Petrotrin.
“So there was nobody available to do this job locally?” Ramdeen asked the House.
Ramdeen also provided details of consultancy costs incurred by Petrotrin between October 2017 and October 2018. In those documents, there was a single day payment of $1,729,372.58 on September 21, 2018, to Lin for “reimbursement for expenses as per contract.”
According to those documents, also obtained by Guardian Media, Petrotrin spent some $7 million for help with international recruitment.
One company, Egon Zehnder Ltd, was paid $4.5 million for three months’ work while another recruitment company, Professional Resources Solutions, was paid $3.739 million for two months’ work.
In the documents, a catering company, Superb Caterers Ltd, was paid $23,770 for catering meals for two meetings at the Pointe-a-Pierre staff club on October 11 and 17, 2018.
Petrotrin, according to the documents, also retained the services of Caribbean Corporate Clinic, a company owned by consultant Shafeek Sultan Khan. That company’s invoices totalled over $900,000 between March and October.
Ramdeen blasted the Government’s decision to shut down Petrotrin because of its financial burden on the economy while money was still being haemorrhaged at this stage.
“In the season of giving, I waiting for this Government, at the last sitting of the session, to get up and talk about the season of giving. In the season of giving, they take away 10,000 jobs,” he said.
“I wonder if anybody understands that when December 25 reach, 10,000 families won’t have a salary. People facing Christmas without an income.”
Guardian Media reached out to Petrotrin for comment but was told that Espinet was not in the country and no comment was possible at this time.
Energy Minister Franklin Khan made a contribution to the debate after Ramdeen’s claims but did not address any of the matters Ramdeen raised. Khan also did not respond to subsequent questions on the Petrotrin misspending the $1.7 million on a failed hire or the other allegations of misspending raised by Ramdeen.