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Dr Rowley: CWU barking up wrong tree

Published: 
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, CWU secretary-general Joseph Remy

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says private sources inside National Enterprises Limited (NEL) told him about the “precarious position” of the state-owned Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT). 

Rowley’s explanation follows a demand from TSTT’s majority union, the Communications Workers Union (CWU), that he come clean about information on TSTT he revealed during a radio interview last Tuesday. In that interview, Rowley said he had met with TSTT’s competitor, Digicel, and learned of the local company’s drop in market share. In that interview he also said TSTT had hinted that it was seeking a government injection of capital to improve its market share.

In a press statement two days after Rowley’s radio interview, the CWU demanded more information on his meeting with Digicel and on TSTT’s requested financial injection. The union also asked the Prime Minister to reveal in what year TSTT requested funding from the State, the reason for the request and the source of his information. However, while Rowley obliged enough to explain the meeting with Digicel, he would not budge on his source of information.

“Recently I heard from other sources at NEL that the TSTT’s precarious position could be alleviated by government investment to allow it to make technological advances,” Rowley said in a text response to questions from the Sunday Guardian.

NEL is jointly owned by the Government of T&T and Cable & Wireless (West Indies) Limited. The Government holds the majority 51 per cent of TSTT’s issued share capital and C&W holds the remaining 49 per cent. NEL is a joint owner of TSTT.

Rowley said the CWU should not be targeting him for revealing the company’s state of affairs. “The union is barking up the wrong tree. Information coming to the Prime Minister is not the problem, proper management of the company is,” he said.

No meeting with Digicel

Rowley also denied meeting with state-owned TSTT’s competitor in his capacity as Prime Minister.

“As Prime Minister I have met with no company involved in the telecommunications industry. I met with Digicel a long time ago in the opposition leader’s office and there they briefed me on their presence here,” he said.

Pressed about the CWU’s heated calls for answers on the state of TSTT, Rowley said the union was upsetting its membership unnecessarily.

“(CWU) is building a conspiracy to carry on unnecessary antagonism. There is no need for that,” he said.

He said as Prime Minister he was required to meet with “all kinds of people and to draw information from a variety of sources, so the CWU should not upset itself by its own misinformation or nervous suspicion.”

Rowley said the current situation at TSTT led his Government to appoint a “strong and competent board” and he warned the unions that he had no intention of fighting with them.

“We have no intention of using our limited energies fighting with any union. We’d rather spend that energy in hopeful co-operation, in better managing the affairs and public investment of which labour is an integral part,” he said.

Remy: PM needs to apologise

CWU secretary-general Joseph Remy yesterday wondered whether the Prime Minister was making a case for privatisation of state-owned TSTT.

“I hope I am wrong,” he said. Remy said the CWU was seeking clarification on issues Rowley himself raised in the public domain.

“So I don’t understand how I could be barking up the wrong tree. I think he was misled and he needs to apologise to the executive of TSTT,” he said.

Remy said the workers faced bad public perceptions when Rowley made such pronouncements on the radio.

“We just signed off on the backpay and now there is word that the company is going around looking for money for upgrades. It makes the workers look heartless and like they do not care about the future of the company and that is the furthest thing from the truth,” Remy said.

He said Rowley needed to be clearer when making public statements: “We need to have confidence when the Prime Minister speaks.”

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