|PM Dr. Keith Rowley|
He stated that it was done "on the heels of a decision where the workers had their rights defended in a Superior Court of Record" and charged that the decision was taken "without reference or discussion with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago".
That statement contradicts his Labour Minister, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, who was quoted in the Trinidad Guardian on Saturday (March 12) as stating that she received two letters from the company, one of which advised her of the proposed closure and sought a meeting.
According to the Guardian report, the minister stated that she had other scheduled matters and could not meet with the company.
So Dr. Rowley was misleading citizens when he claimed that the steel company took its decision without reference or discussion with the government.
The other issue of note, is that the letter was sent to the labour minister before the judgment of the Industrial Court so it is clear that ArcelorMittal was contemplating closure before the court handed down its decision and that it wanted to meet the government to talk about it. But the labour minister was too busy.
What is even more worrisome in the claim by the Prime Minister that the company’s actions were "punitive and disrespectful in the extreme" without providing any evidence to support his assertion.
And while censuring the company he appeared to be conciliatory, stating that "the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Finance stand ready to re-engage ArcelorMittal on these far reaching developments".
He added, "…it is our expectation that...there is still room for the country and the investor to talk and work our way out of these very real difficulties.”
Why didn't Dr. Rowley and his government think about these things before? Instead of dialogue they behaved with typical arrogance in dealing with a multinational corporation that operates in sixty countries with assets of TT$500 billion. And the bullying approach backfired.
Could the minister not make an adjustment to her schedule to meet with the company? After all the jobs of 700 people were at stake, not to mention the economic fallout from the closure of a company that pays millions in taxes and buys goods and services amounting to tens of millions of dollars annually.And it had been doing it for 27 years!
The minister admitted in her comments in the Guardian that she knew the company wanted to discuss closing its operations but still did not see it important enough to meet with the company. Yet the prime minister concluded that the company's decision was "punitive and disrespectful in the extreme".
Dr. Rowley also distorted reality by presenting half truths about the history of the steel company in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Eric Williams PNM government built the Iron and Steel company (ISCOTT) at Point Lisas against the advice and better judgment of experts. ISCOTT had poor management, a lack of expertise and no global marketing skills.
ISCOTT became a national parasite, consuming more than one million dollars a day in subsidy, which the Chambers government continued to pour into the company until the PNM was voted out of office.
In 1989, the NAR government of Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson sold ISCOTT to the Mittal family, which had been operating a company known as Ispat International since 1978. Ispat was already a major player in the international steel industry when it bought ISCOTT and renamed it Caribbean Ispat; in 2006 it became part of the ArcelorMittal multinational steel company.
The owner, Lakshmi Mittal, made the company profitable within a year without laying off workers or amending their terms of employment. In other words he saved the government about $400 million a year in subsidy alone and since 1989 has been paying millions in taxes and buying goods and services, while maintaining full employment.
So Rowley was telling a half truth and deliberately misleading citizens by suggesting that "a local steel industry, which was funded and nurtured by local taxpayers, then fell into the investment hands of Mittal, which with our continued support and sacrifice, went on to become a world power in the steel industry."
Rowley is wrong. There was no support and no sacrifice from T&T as he claimed. In fact it was the flip side of his claim; Caribbean Ispat provided an economic lifeline to the country at a time when Trinidad and Tobago was facing a severe recession. And the company remained a fixture in Trinidad and Tobago's industrial landscape for decades, providing jobs and pumping millions in revenue into the T&T economy until it started facing losses in 2009. Still it remained at Point Lisas until the government changed and the new administration put hurdles in the way with new policies that the company saw as a hindrance to continuing to do business.
The Rowley PNM government’s arrogance and refusal to meet with the company contributed to the closure of the plant, which was a part of the biggest steel operation on the planet. The government's harsh economic policies also influenced the company's decision.
In 2006 Mittal created ArcelorMittal with its headquarters in Luxembourg. The multinational company, with plants in 19 countries and significant investments in 60 countries, had assets of US$76.84B (approx. TT$500B) in 2015 and revenue of US$63.57B (approx. TT$414B). This was no corner store!
The Prime Minister’s distortion of the facts and baseless accusation against the company demonstrate that he is not really willing to keep ArcelorMittal here. He is, as usual, hoodwinking the people with false claims and distortion of facts. No one enters a mediation by hurling insults while saying you want to negotiate in good faith.
The real losers in this whole affair are the workers, their families and the others whose lives revolved around the steel plant. And if Rowley doesn't change his approach he would face an exodus of foreign capital because those who bring money here as investment are first and foremost doing it for their shareholders, not to be nice to Trinidad and Tobago.
Jai Parasram | 13 March 2016