(Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 19.Apr.2021) — Former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine said it is critical for the Prime Minister to name a new Minister of Energy over the next two days, as Trinidad and Tobago is still an oil and gas-dependent economy.
He said the shortfall in revenue and the fact that the two most important state enterprises. – Trinidad Petroleum Holding Co Ltd and the National Gas Company (NGC) – report to this ministry underscore its importance.
The perspective was shared by economist Dr Roger Hosein, who, along with Ramnarine, was commenting on the importance of filling this key ministry following the sudden death of Energy Minister Franklin Khan on Saturday.
Hosein said it is important that the position is filled by a strong and dynamic individual. Government has not yet named a replacement.
“I think that it is critical that all the major ministries have strong players. As we mourn the passing of the former minister of energy we hope that there is room for the Government to act quickly and introduce a vibrant, dynamic, strong minister that could lead TT into the medium-term period in a strong way with output from the energy sector and make nonsense of the IMF-forecast numbers and making the expected growth performance even stronger,” Hosein said.
“A decision would have to be made very soon,” Ramnarine ventured, pointing out that this should be done by Monday or Tuesday given that it is one of the top five ministries in the Government after Prime Minister, Attorney General and Finance Ministries.
“All ministries are important, but Energy and Finance are the ministries that drive the country and National Security, of course, takes care of the country’s security.”
Ramnarine refused to speculate on who might be the likely candidate but underscored that given the current situation with the shortfall in revenue, someone with a guiding hand is needed at the ministry.
“Because that ministry is the ministry to which the two most important state companies report,” he said in reference to TPHL and NGC.
“Franklin Khan was involved in a very important matter, which was the transition of the retail fuel market to a free market. Remember, we were supposed to transition from price control and subsidy to a free market, and that, I think, was going to be introduced into the Parliament very soon.
“I expect that is something which would be a priority for whoever is the new Minister of Energy. Whoever fits into that portfolio, whoever is selected has to treat with that matter very quickly.”
He said it should be on the agenda for the mid-year review, in which the Minister of Energy usually plays a major role in the parliamentary debate.
As someone who held the portfolio he said, “It is huge. Apart from the ministry, you have the state enterprises which report to the ministry – NP, Petrotrin, now TPHL, Phoenix Park, NGC, LATT, National Quarries – the whole quarrying industry (is)under the Minister of Energy.
“Then you have constant liaison and constant interface with the multinationals – BP, Shell, BHP. Then you have a Parliament to report to. So it is really a broad and heavy portfolio.”
Nevertheless, Ramnarine said there is supporting structure for whoever lands in that position, from the public servants in the ministry, starting with the permanent secretary, Penelope Miles-Bradshaw, and her team, who have between 20 and 30 years of experience.
In addition, he pointed out, the PM as well as National Security Minister Stuart Young have both been playing a role in the oversight of this sector and would be able to provide support on contemporary issues in it.
“So if the person who lands the portfolio is new, he/she would take some time to acclimatise, as it is a broad and heavy portfolio, but the support systems are in place for a minister.”
Ramnarine said he had a very cordial relationship with Khan, whom he described as a friendly person with whom one could easily engage in a conversation.
By Yvonne Webb