Thursday, November 09, 2006

Aluminiun Smelting Symposium

by John Spence
Trinidad Express
November 08, 2006

The decision by the Prime Minister to have the National Energy Corporation convene a national consultation on aluminium smelting is to be welcomed. However, the time and process applied to this exercise must commensurate with the significance of the proposal, and with the extent and nature of the public reaction. The issues are very complex; the public policy formulation process therefore requires ample time, comprehensive and reliable information, credible process, and disposition to engage contrary opinions. The one-day exercise proposed by the Prime Minister must not be simply for the Government to insist that it is right.

What form will this symposium take? If it is to last for one day then even if each presentation is limited to 20 minutes there could not be more than nine presentations - six in the morning and three in the afternoon with appropriate periods for discussion and a final plenary session.

Such symposia, if they are to address the issues seriously, would normally require at least a year's preparation, particularly if knowledgeable persons are to be invited from abroad. Such persons are usually busy with engagements and have to be booked well in advance. It is to be hoped that they will be scientists (including doctors) and lawyers of international repute and not just Alcoa propagandists. It is nevertheless important that those of us who have a serious interest in the issue express our intention to participate and to make presentations.

I participate in discussions of a Sustainable Development Network which has been working on the smelter issue in order to bring to the national discussion a comprehensive, balanced and unemotional analysis of the associated issues, and also to indicate the kind of analytical approach to such proposals that we would wish the Government to take. This group could make a valuable input into the public consultation.

In view of the widespread national and, I suspect, international interest in this issue, the proceedings must be made available as early as possible. This should be done in two ways. Firstly, the proceedings should be televised using TV channel 4 (which is owned by Government). Secondly, the organisers of the symposium must require all presenters to make their papers available in electronic form in advance, and compact discs must be made available to all participants on the day of the symposium. Thereafter such CDs of all presentations (to include the discussions) should be on sale to the public.

The Ministry of Health must make a statement on the health issue. The Ministry of Planning must make a presentation to indicate how the smelter proposals fit into social and economic plans for the south-west and the whole country. The sustainability of these developments must be indicated in relation to reserves of natural gas. That Ministry must also indicate what alternatives were considered for the south west peninsula and why they were rejected.

I have suggested the development of livestock (buffalypso - water buffalo); production of high quality honey for which this country has an international reputation (both activities having been already practiced in that part of the country); and other modern systems of agricultural development. Tourism could be based on a nature park and including other attributes of that beautiful part of Trinidad.

The Prime Minister has made a very significant statement at the post-Cabinet briefing that has so far gone without public comment. That was to the effect that it is Government's intention to import aluminium to commence down-stream manufacture even before the smelters are constructed! I have repeatedly asked the question in previous articles - why must we smelt aluminium in this small island with limited land space when we could import aluminium and go downstream?

To my great relief the Prime Minister has answered the question - this is feasible since it is Government's intention to do so. Japan has one of the largest industries in the world in the manufacture of aluminium products but has only an insignificant smelting capacity (6,000 tonnes) but in 2004 imported approximately two and a half million tonnes of aluminium. The Prime Minister has settled the aluminium smelting question. We must not smelt; instead, we must import aluminium. Since the downstream processes require significantly less energy our gas resources will last longer.

What of securing long term supplies of aluminium? We can promote the concept of Caricom integration by this country's Government investing in the development of aluminium smelting in Guyana - a vast country where there is no problem of space. We can also invest in the development of hydro-electric power in that country to provide a source of energy which will reduce their need for utilising foreign exchange for importation of petroleum products.

Are we likely to make such investments? Hardly, for we can gain political mileage from fine speeches on the importance of the Common Market and Economy without doing anything other than allowing in a few workers who in any case are needed in view of our shortage of skilled labour!


Post a Comment

<< Home