ALL HOPE that one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) had abated was shattered with the departure on Friday of its chairman Alison Lewis.
Lewis, a former World Bank advisor and the holder of the Public Service Medal of Merit (Gold) for outstanding and meritorious service to Trinidad and Tobago, was undoubtedly a major asset to the authority. She served for less than a year.
“I have done all that I can do, and I have resigned,” Lewis said on Sunday, addressing speculation over the reasons for her departure.
While she has deemed many of the rumours as “false suppositions,” it cannot be denied that her decision to leave at this stage is a sign that the authority is not a place that motivates talented and skilled personnel to stick around.
Little wonder. The PATT has been torn asunder by high-profile problems relating to mismanagement and the use of public funds. We have witnessed fallouts stemming from termination of contracts for the Superfast Galicia; the dry-docking of the TT Spirit; the procurement of the Cabo Star (whose one-year lease is almost up), and the procurement of a new passenger ferry, the Galleons Passage, expected at the end of April.
That ferry is not even here and it has already begun to attract some degree of controversy with questions over its fitness for purpose, additional costs, and, most recently, claims from politicians who say crew members have abandoned the boat due to safety concerns. The National Infrastructure Development Company has denied the latter.
The port has also triggered great unrest in Tobago. A group of business stakeholders are now threatening to shut down the island for two days ostensibly over the transport problems that plague the island.
We remain convinced that proposed shutdown is ill-conceived and counter-productive. But we maintain that there is indeed need for action to be taken by the State to clean up the sorry mess that the port has become.
It is easy to suggest a new agency be formed. But without a comprehensive assessment of what has gone wrong, any new entity, manned by the same personnel, is doomed to replicate the errors of the past. An inquiry into the operations of the port is urgently needed.
It is perhaps ironic that all of this is happening at a time when there is legislation before Parliament relating to the devolution of powers to Tobago. The time has come for serious consideration of a realignment of responsibilities. If Trinidad cannot get the job done, perhaps Tobago can.