Trinity Energy Sets Sights at Regional Expansion
Akol E Ayii, a senior executive with a track record of achieving success in revenue, profit and business growth objectives, founded Trinity Holdings in 2008 and went on to set up Trinity energy Ltd in 2013. The company was named as the best petroleum company of the year in 2015 by South Sudan Chamber of Commerce and Industry for its role in contributing towards alleviating the acute fuel shortage the country was suffering and is now the main bulk importer of quality diesel and petrol in South Sudan. In this interview, he outlines the way his company is attracting highly skilled labour to South Sudan at the same time as fostering local talent. He also talks about his vision for expanding Trinity Energy in his own country and across the region.
South Sudan has suffered from recurring conflict. What is your experience as an investor? What are the opportunities and challenges?
In South Sudan's Oil & Gas sector, there are substantial opportunities given that South Sudan holds the third largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Sudan currently exports the majority of its crude oil production and then imports all of its refined oil products, This scenario provides an opportunity for investment to add value to the country's crude oil. We intend to invest in a refinery.
Secondly, because South Sudan is landlocked, efficient logistics and the existence of adequate fuel storage facilities are two important factors that will ensure energy security for the nation. The country has to truck its refined product imports thousands of kilometres from the ports. With national demand for petroleum products estimated to be about 70m litres per month and growing, one can see why it is imperative to have strategic reserves in-country. In order to meet this monthly demand, another investment opportunity exists: the setting up of a network of storage facilities in strategic logistic nodes or hubs across the country. This opportunity is in our sights and we are developing investment solutions that will give not only security of supply now, but also lend support to the establishment and operation of the planned crude oil refinery.
There are also a number of significant opportunities in exploration and production, E&P in short, in the upstream segment of South Sudan's Oil & Gas sector. As a strategic investor on the ground, it is our long-term strategy to invest in oil field E&P opportunities.
Outside the Oil & Gas sector, there are opportunities in Mining, Agriculture, Infrastructure Development- the list is virtually endless. South Sudan is the world's youngest nation, with a significant scope for growth.
Let me now address the challenges. True, we have had our fair share of difficulties and we have largely, as a nation, overcome them. We are all now focusing on ensuring that there is national peace in our beloved country. We all know that without peace, economic development cannot advance and the requisite foreign investment to develop the national economy cannot be realised.
The second fundamental component is to ensure that the Government adopts favourable policies that support the private sector and make South Sudan an attractive destination for foreign investment. The Investment Promotion Act is undeniably favourable in this respect.
The third major challenge has so far been the attraction and retention of talent. As you can appreciate, finding a diverse pool of human capital is at most times costly. Despite the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence, human capital remains an important component in developing and implementing strategic initiatives.
You mention that human capital is costly in South Sudan. How is Trinity Energy managing this challenge?
Attracting the required human capital is expensive, but we have no choice as we need to have in place a pool of diverse talent to implement our corporate strategies. In order to attract top talent from places like Kenya, Uganda, India and beyond, we have to cajole them with high remuneration packaging. Invariably, these are individuals that are looking for greener pastures, new challenges, or just want to be part of a success story. When we share our vision and mission with candidates, the majority readily step forward and come on board to join our growing team of professionals at Trinity Energy.
We have made it our deliberate policy to identify qualified candidates from abroad and position these experienced individuals in key management positions. Alongside this, we continuously scout for local South Sudanese men and women through an equitable selection process. They are then placed to work hand-in-hand with foreign counterparts as we are strong believers in mentorship, coaching and the transfer of skills and knowledge. In my view, this will benefit the entire South Sudanese economy in the long-term.
Some years back, South Sudan was hit with a fuel crisis that almost grounded its nascent economy. Where does Trinity Energy position itself in the market in addressing the fuel shortage problem?
The fuel crisis in South Sudan started in 2013 due to a mismatch between supply and demand. National demand from 2013 to 2015 was about 45m litres. Given the trade finance facility at hand then, the monthly supplies stood at 13m litres.
To exacerbate the problem, in 2016 the Government introduced and put into effect fuel subsidies. This was the catalyst that triggered and entrenched a fuel crisis that lasted until the middle of 2018. The subsidies made it uncompetitive for private sector players to independently import refined oil products and market them profitably. Under the subsidy regime, Nilepet - the national Oil & Gas corporation wholly owned by the Government - was responsible for all refined product imports. Unfortunately, Nilepet could not handle the market demand as a sole supplier.
As a company, we decided to put in place a reliable and sustainable refined product supply strategy. Firstly, we diversified into crude oil trading - we are the first South Sudanese company registered to lift crude oil. We currently export crude oil feedstock and add value by refining it abroad and reporting the refined products. This ensures energy security is always present in South Sudan's economy through the consistent availability of refined products in the market. Currently, we import approximately 17m litres every month.
We hold a trade finance facility with Afreximbank that supports our ability to lift crude oil and subsequent importation of refined oil products back into South Sudan. Under this arrangement, we have delivered in excess of 150m litres of diesel and 29m litres of petrol to date. Through this trade finance mechanism coupled with Trinity Energy's strategic storage depot located at Nesitu on the Juba-Nimule Border Road, we have assisted in stabilising the domestic energy market.
Where do you see Trinity Energy in the future, with the coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?
Our main objective is to become a regional player not only in the Oil & Gas industry but in the energy sector as a whole. We intend and plan to expand our operations and diversify our business portfolio. One of the main target markets that we will be looking at is neighbouring Ethiopia. Once we have our crude oil refinery established, Ethiopia will be an ideal off-take partner for a large percentage of our production output. Trinity Energy will also be expanding its retail network nationwide within South Sudan before expanding into regional markets.
In the short to medium term, we will be looking at supplying South Sudanese oil to neighbouring countries through intra-African trade with support from Afreximbank. We therefore welcome the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
To sum it up, as an indigenous investor with a vision to go global, we look at challenges and come up with business solutions to serve not only our compatriots, but humanity in general. This is what gives us the energy to rise every morning and look forward to the future with hope.