Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is calling on police to investigate the circumstances surrounding Government’s procurement of and subsequent cancellation of the contract for the lease of the Ocean Flower II, a passenger vessel that was to ply the seabridge.
And even as Port Authority (PATT) chairman Alison Lewis said a new vessel has to be acquired before October when the T&T Express ferry goes on dry dock, Persad-Bissessar said the issue is, “a scandal of the highest order which reeks of mismanagement and corruption.”
Persad-Bissessar said she will write the Canadian authorities as she called for an investigation into the transaction involving Canadian company Bridgemans Services Group LP. Bridgemans has already leased the Cabo Star, a cargo vessel that services the seabridge.
Contacted yesterday, Lewis said the Ministry of Works and Transport cancelled the contract because of Bridgemans failure to deliver the vessel within the time frame agreed on in the terms of the contract. “When it was not delivered by the extended deadline of August 1, we invoked the cancellation clause in the contract,” Lewis said. The board is trying its best, she said, to correct a situation it met in the best possible way for all stakeholders especially the people of Tobago.
“With Government’s support in getting what is necessary,” she said, “we hope to get this behind us in the shortest possible time.” On whether Government has advanced Bridgemans any money for the vessel, Lewis said, “We have not paid any money. The contract calls for mobilisation and delivery. My information is that Government has reserved its legal rights in terms of its own remedies which the lawyers are looking at right now.”
MINISTER SEES NO RESIGNATIONS
Efforts to contact Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi and Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Stuart Young on Government ‘legal rights’ in this matter, were futile. Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie, the only Government Minister to answer his cellular phone yesterday, said Government told the Port Authority to take whatever action it deemed necessary.
“I can’t comment any further, because the port authority is the person you should speak to it and once you get a comment from them, that is all you need,” Cuffie said, On TV6’s Morning Edition yesterday, asked if the decision to terminate the contract was not massively embarrassing for him and Government, Minister Sinanan said, “definitely not.” Sinanan said he has faith in the PATT and its decisions.
Asked if resignations were expected, he said, “definitely not. There’s no reason for that.” Meanwhile, on leasing another vessel, PATT chairman Lewis said public tendering will begin as soon as possible.
Asked about the controversy surrounding the selection of the contractor, Lewis said, “Bridgemans is a company that is incorporated in Vancouver, Canada. Our consideration was whether or not Bridgemans had the ability to provide the vessels that they were tendering.
Whether Bridgemans was a bona fide company that was incorporated, whether the vessels it was talking about were going to be made available, the fact that there was no judgement (against Bridgemans) and nobody was suing them for anything, were some of the considerations the tenders committee looked at.
ROWLEY MUST TAKE BLAME
Persad-Bissessar said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must accept responsibility for “this débâcle” and account to citizens as it was not enough for government to simply cancel the contract. Rowley, Sinanan and Lewis, she insisted, “must clear the air on this fiasco.”
Persad-Bissessar said she raised concerns several weeks ago about possible corruption in the ferry deal. The nation deserves to know the facts on the decision to scrap the contract, she said. She reiterated her call for answers as to how a company allegedly with no record, was awarded the contract.
A number of questions must be answered, she said, including whether advances, finders fees, legal fees and any other were paid and if so, to whom. She said there was no record of the shareholders and directors of Bridgemans Trinidad LPC in the TT Companies Registry. The Opposition was informed, she said, that the vessel was sold from its original owners on June 26, and a few days later was in a charter party to lease it to (TT).”