Published On: Tue, Oct 3rd, 2017

Nahar: “The Curaçao Government has been led by a ring through the nose by the Chinese”

oil refineryWILLEMSTAD - In a masterful stroke the Chinese succeeded in outsmarting the Curaçao Government for the second time in a row during their ongoing mutual negotiations to achieve a scenario which presumably has to be advantageous for both parties.
The first time this happened was last year during an election campaign when the political party Pueblo Soberano (P.S.) in a desperate effort to canvass votes, embraced the Chinese state-owned corporation Guangdong Zhenrong Ltd., (GZE) and presented this GZE to the electorate as the savior of the Curaçao economy.

The then officiating Prime Minister Ben Whiteman swallowed the bait of this Chinese corporation line, hook and sinker and Whiteman praised this GZE to high heaven and urged the voters to support P.S. by their vote in the election. All this to no avail, however, since the number of eight (8) seats previously held by the P.S. was cut down to half in the election with only 4 seats obtained in the Curaçao Parliament, which consists of 22 seats in total. The bait consisted of a promise from the Chinese to invest 10 (ten) BILLION USD in the Curaçao economy, particularly in the upgrading of the vastly outdated Isla refinery, which is practically beyond repair. Moreover the Chinese committed themselves to maintain the output of the refinery at a 75% level after completion of the upgrading, for a period of at least 40 (forty) years, no less, and they even caused this commitment to be published in full page ads in the local newspapers.
Another golden promise from GZE was that it would provide employment opportunity for great numbers of future workers.

Many observers among the electorate of Curaçao openly expressed their doubt regarding this commitment since common sense dictates that the ever changing market conditions during a period of forty years, will be the determining factor for the output of the refinery. Their doubts were reflected in the results of the electoral campaign last year, by the massive rejection of former P.S-voters. Undaunted by this evident expression of public opinion as being contrary to the views held by the political parties for achieving economic growth in Curaçao, the coalition which then came into being nevertheless signed the first agreement with GZE termed an MoU. The initial promise by GZE of a 10 BILLION USD investment, was immediately reduced to approximately 6 BILLION in the signed contract.

In this contract, as said before, GZE committed itself with elaborate guarantees published in the local newspapers and by radio and TV to modernize the Isla refinery for an assessed cost of, in the meantime reduced to 6½ BILLION USD but again many citizens of Curaçao had (and expressed) their doubts, since included in the assessed amount for the upgrading was approximately one BILLION USD for the clean up alone of the environmental pollution, caused by Isla during its 105 years of existence. People warned the government in letters to the editor and on radio talks shows, that GZE was not likely to spend billions for cleaning up pollution which was not caused by them, but to no avail, the coalition clung to the chosen strategic partner, which caused such discontent and strive within the community that last year’s coalition government was toppled by the opposition and had to make way for new elections after much upheaval. 

The new elections were held on April 28th of this year and the slogan which was repeated over and over again was the modernization of the Isla refinery by -incredible but true- the same strategic partner. And the negotiations continued and have been ongoing in the meantime for 11 months, but not a single job has been created, let alone any investment made in the modernization of the Isla. On the contrary: during the past 11 months GZE has only been insisting on an Addendum to the signed contract to the effect that it would be allowed to build a whole new refinery at Bullenbay instead of modernizing the old Isla. And lo and behold the government consented to this and signed the Addendum this past week and thus GZE is “off the hook” and is relieved from all the commitments made by it last year, but at the same time GZE forcefully clings to its unmitigated efforts to get full control of the oil terminal (which was part of the deal for modernization). Utterly remarkable is also its new promise of a feasibility study to build(?), no to “investigate the possibilities” to build a new refinery at Bullenbay, at the same time when the President of China announced through the news media worldwide that China is going to quit its involvement with the petrochemical industry and is going to focus on developing its auto industry in view of the unstoppable advance of the electric car.

And so GZE achieved two major goals, it managed to be relinquished from all its initial commitments and at the same time it was enabled in the Addendum to keep the Curaçao government dangling on a string for at least the coming two years to learn the results of the feasibility study and the decision of GZE whether or not it is going to build a new refinery. That decision will undoubtedly depend on the future  developments on the world market of the petrochemical industry and particularly depend on the future demand for gasoline, since automobiles driven by a combustion engine are being phased out at a rapid pace, by which the petrochemical industry will lose its major potential to market gasoline.

Many people are baffled and ask themselves what powerful “incentives” the Chinese must have provided to the advisors and decision-makers on key-positions within the government, to motivate them to reach their decision to sign this Addendum, by which everything is put on hold to accommodate the Chinese to opt for the future scenario which is most advantageous to them. Employment opportunity??? How so? When? Investment of BILLIONS of dollars??? How so, when?

Many people also ask themselves whether Donald Trump will be “not amused” or will simply acquiesce in the establishment of a Chinese maritime and commercial stronghold in the backyard of the U.S.A. by its full control or maybe even its future ownership of the deep seaport of Bullenbay strategically located on the maritime highway from both the U.S.A. and Europe to the Panama Canal.

(to be continued by an elaboration on the management and control, or even the ownership of the deep seaport at Bullenbay).

Marguérite Nahar  

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