A wire service report yesterday that Russian aluminium giant UC Rusal was denying Phillip Paulwell's announcement that the company plans to shut down its last operational bauxite plant in Jamaica surprised the energy minister who said he intended to summon the firm's country representative to meet with him today.
"I am happy that there has been a change of heart subsequent to my representation to the country representatives from UC Rusal, and I hope that it wasn't a ploy," Paulwell told the Jamaica Observer last night.
"They had made certain demands re the bauxite levy and getting oil, and I hope it wasn't a way of strong-arming the Government," he added, but declined to give specifics.
"If that was the case, then I regard that as a despicable act," he declared.
On Tuesday, Paulwell had announced in the Parliament that UC Rusal will close its Ewarton Alumina Refinery in October for one year, a move that would put 600 people out of work.
Paulwell had admitted that despite the Government's decision to accept UC Rusal's request for a waiver from the bauxite levy with respect to Ewarton — for one year, commencing June 1, in return for the implementation of short-term projects — the agreement was never executed.
"Further, despite the efforts of the Government to mitigate the adverse situation, the indications are that the continued operation of the Ewarton plant is in doubt," he told the House.
"I was verbally informed on July 6, 2012 that UC Rusal has taken the decision to close the Ewarton plant later this year for one year, even though the full bauxite levy relief was granted," he explained.
But yesterday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail that "the information about Ewarton's closing in October this year does not correspond to the reality".
The AP reported that the company acknowledged that it is considering curtailing operations at some facilities, but said a decision would not be made until September.
Last night, Paulwell explained that although the Government had agreed to giving the company the bauxite levy, its demands for oil concessions were rebuffed.
"They asked for an urgent meeting last week. We had got wind of rumours of their pulling out of the country, so I made sure to have my junior minister in the meeting, the permanent secretary, the head of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, someone from the Attorney General's Office, [and] the chairman of the PCJ. There were about 10 Government officers," the energy minister told the Observer.
"The country representative indicated in very serious tones that the plant would be closed in October," Paulwell insisted.
"In that meeting, I indicated my opinions about that closure and made comments about their licence in relation to closed sections of Alpart's Kirkvine plant," Paulwell said, without revealing the exact nature of his comments.
"My comments were received in a serious way," he added.
He also said he was disturbed that 600 people have been put through the wringer, with the threat of closure and loss of their jobs hung over their heads.
In 2009, the Russian company — the world's largest aluminium producer — shut down two other Jamaican bauxite plants after the global economic crisis halted production.