Former Port Authority chairman Christine Sahadeo came under attack from former board member Ferdie Ferreira during yesterday's enquiry by the Land and Physical Infrastructure Joint Select Committee into the domestic seabridge, at Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre. In responding to questions from committee members, Ferreira accused Sahadeo of questionable conduct and blamed her for creating "serious internal conflicts" within the former board. He said he went so far as to write Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley about his concerns of Sahadeo's conduct.
Ferreira said former members were unaware of Sahadeo's resignation as chairman on February 22. He said subsequently, "a very powerful person in the Government" told him there would be an emergency Cabinet meeting after she had resigned in February. Ferreira said that meeting resulted in the rest of the former board being removed and a new board being installed within the space of 24 hours. While it has been publicly reported that the former board members resigned, Ferreira claimed, "We were constructively dismissed."
He further alleged, "There was an incident in which incorrect minutes were sent to the Minister, initialled by the chairman." Ferreira said he wrote to Sahadeo about this and communicated his concerns to former Works and Transport minister Fitzgerald Hinds. He also said he sent a report on his accountability as a board member to Hinds and Rowley.
Ferreira said Sahadeo requested marine consultant Captain Alfred McMillan of Magellan Maritime Services to do an investigation on the Super Fast Galicia cargo vessel, which was leased under the former People's Partnership (PP) government. Referring to documents in his possession, Ferreira said this decision was never taken by the board. "In the report, he (McMillan) said, 'I was requested by Christine Sahadeo'," Ferreira said.
He said at that time, Magellan was not contracted by the Authority to do maintenance work on the fast ferries. Ferreira claimed McMillan also made recommendations for vessels "outside of the tendering process" as outlined in the State Enterprises performance manual. He could not say whether or not there was corruption in the Galicia's procurement as it happened during the PP's tenure.
He said the main problem with the Galicia was the lack of a proper berthing location. Ferreira said no dredging of the port had been done over the last 20 years to facilitate a vessel of that size. He said the board agreed to extend the Galicia's contract for 18 months, provided that the dredging was done. He said the Port agreed to a $37 million proposal from a Dutch firm to do the dredging. Ferreira said while Hinds agreed to the extension and the dredging works, Cabinet did not. He said this led to a month to month arrangement for the Galicia.
He supported Sahadeo's position that the former board never agreed to a five-year extension for the Galicia. Sahadeo said this was apparently done by management without the board's knowledge. She said Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan was informed of this. Energy Minister Franklin Khan said if true, this was a matter for serious investigation and possible disciplinary action.
Ferreira also disclosed he was contacted by Inter-Continental Shipping (ICS) managing director John Powell about the Galicia's extension. ICS is the owner of the Galicia. Ferreira said he advised Powell to address his concerns to other board members. He said the former board was subsequently advised of this.
Opposition Senator Wade Mark claimed former acting Port CEO Leon Grant accused Sahadeo of "hijacking" the port management's attempt to extend the Galicia's contract, in a June 7, 2016 letter to Hinds. Sahadeo said she was unaware of this letter. Ferreira said when Sahadeo decided to remove Grant as acting CEO and replace him with Charmaine Lewis, he fully supported her. However Ferreira said Sahadeo subsequently allowed some port managers to interrupt a board meeting and voice their concerns about Lewis' appointment. He said Lewis was removed as acting CEO nine days after her appointment. He claimed Sahadeo interviewed Lewis at her office at the UWI, St Augustine campus where she is a lecturer. He also claimed Sahadeo spoke with the line minister independently from the board and concerns about the Galicia were her own.
In response, Sahadeo said many of the former board members were not aware of the Galicia's unsuitability for the seabridge as "much of the vessel could not be used for cargo." While three separate tenders were issued last year (March, August and December) for replacement vessels, Sahadeo said the board approved certain specifications for those vessels. However she disclosed when the tenders returned, "we are asked to approve a tender with totally different specifications."
Sahadeo said while it is "easy to be nice" and let nature take its course, this proposed arrangement "would have cost this country a phenomenal amount of money." Asked by members how this situation arose, Sahadeo attributed it to the former board's tender committee and the port's management. While in hindsight she believed a direct conversation with Rowley might have resolved some of these issues, Sahadeo felt she did the best she could under the circumstances. "I think I have dealt fairly and correctly so with those responsibilities," she said.