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Trinidad’s state-owned oil company loses US$500,000 in bad deal

By Trinidad Guardian

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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – State-owned Na­tion­al Pe­tro­le­um Mar­ket­ing Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed (NP) lost over US$500,000 in a bad deal on the sale of bunker fu­el on the in­ter­na­tion­al mar­ket.

There are very few de­tails of this deal avail­able in the pub­lic do­main, but Guardian Me­dia un­der­stands that NP was deal­ing with a com­pa­ny named Black Gold on an in­ter­na­tion­al deal which soured and NP was left nurs­ing a mil­lion dol­lar loss.

The deal was the sub­ject of an in­ter­nal au­dit which named op­er­a­tives with­in NP as cul­pa­ble but ac­cord­ing to one NP in­sid­er, it ap­peared to have been swept un­der the car­pet.

The lim­it­ed in­for­ma­tion on the deal is con­tained in an in­ter­nal “good­bye” email writ­ten by the out­go­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at NP, Bernard Mitchell.

The email was sent to staff of Jan­u­ary 14, one day be­fore Mitchell’s tenure end­ed.

The email list­ed a se­ries of ques­tion­able de­ci­sions tak­en at the State or­gan­i­sa­tion and seemed to in­fer that the board was aware of the grow­ing dis­cord with­in the com­pa­ny.

Mitchell’s email to his for­mer staff was en­ti­tled “un­til we meet again” and in that email, he out­lined the “Black Gold fi­as­co” that cost the com­pa­ny over US$500,000 but which was nev­er prop­er­ly ad­dressed by the board.

“The lack of sanc­tion/ac­count­abil­i­ty for the Black Gold fi­as­co which re­sult­ed in a loss of over US$500,000 for the com­pa­ny, al­though clear cul­pa­bil­i­ty could be de­ter­mined from the Au­dit Re­port and Gen­er­al in­for­ma­tion known among staff,” Mitchell wrote.

While the let­ter did not say much more on that mat­ter, NP in­sid­ers told Guardian Me­dia that there was no prop­er due dili­gence con­duct­ed be­fore NP de­cid­ed to pur­sue the Black Gold mat­ter.

“The req­ui­site Board ap­provals were not ob­tained and that they could not find the prin­ci­pals of the com­pa­ny ini­tial­ly en­gaged,” the in­sid­er said.

“Our fi­nance and le­gal staff were to­tal­ly against the trans­ac­tion but were di­rect­ed to par­tic­i­pate but this did not come out in the au­dit,” the source said.

“What is re­quired is a foren­sic au­dit. There was al­so a re­port on this re­cent­ly com­plet­ed by the Min­istry of Fi­nance,” the in­sid­er said.

Mitchell’s let­ter al­so said that there was a “un­sub­stan­ti­at­ed de­lay” for over 10 months in hir­ing a chief pro­cure­ment of­fi­cer.

“Giv­en that the short­list of can­di­dates to be in­ter­viewed was fi­nalised in Feb­ru­ary 2019 and which is now im­pact­ing the com­pa­ny’s state of readi­ness and abil­i­ty to adopt and com­ply with the re­quire­ments of the pro­cure­ment leg­is­la­tion,” Mitchell said.

He al­so ques­tioned the ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion to re­place three di­rec­tors “for no plau­si­ble rea­son” and the uni­lat­er­al sus­pen­sion of Board and Com­mit­tee meet­ings for over three months from May to Au­gust 2019.

“De­spite hav­ing a ful­ly and du­ly con­sti­tut­ed board of di­rec­tors, this de­lay­ing de­ci­sions and the progress of the com­pa­ny,” Mitchell said in the let­ter.

Un­der the head­ing “ex­po­sures”, Mitchell list­ed three main con­cerns in­clud­ing the lim­it­ed progress of the com­pa­ny Cap­i­tal Projects, de­lays in ex­e­cut­ing key projects and ini­tia­tives and NP’s in­abil­i­ty to en­hance op­er­at­ing ef­fi­cien­cies.

Mitchell said that NP was un­able to ex­e­cute its cap­i­tal projects be­cause it lacked en­gi­neers. He said NP failed to ex­e­cute the key projects be­cause it lacked a Project Man­age­ment of­fice.

“I cham­pi­oned this with lim­it­ed suc­cess be­cause of the re­stric­tions in hir­ing the re­quired qual­i­ty re­sources,” he said.

“My con­cern is that the re­al losers in this de­ba­cle are NP, the em­ploy­ees of NP and the stake­hold­ers by ex­ten­sion,” Mitchell wrote.

“The work to en­sure the long-term sur­vival of the com­pa­ny had now start­ed to gain mo­men­tum and the skills re­quired to see it through are not avail­able in abun­dance,” he said.

“If not prop­er­ly ad­dressed NP will be­come just an­oth­er ca­su­al­ty en­ter­prise that we read about dai­ly,” Mitchell wrote.

Guardian Me­dia con­tact­ed Mitchell yes­ter­day on the mat­ter of the email, but while he con­firmed that it was his email to staff, he de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

Guardian Me­dia al­so con­tact­ed NP chair­man Sahid Ho­sein who al­so de­clined to com­ment.

Ho­sein said he would ad­dress in­ter­nal mat­ters at NP at a lat­er date.

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