PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley is convinced something crooked took place in the procurement of the Ocean Flower II. He made the point at a news conference at the Magdalena Grand Hotel in Tobago yesterday after close to two hours of talks with stakeholders on the problems facing the domestic seabridge. Rowley was confident that investigations by Cabinet appointed investigator Christian Mouttet, the Integrity Commission and the Parliament’s Land and Physical Infrastructure Joint Select Committee (JSC) would discover the truth about the circumstances under which the Ocean Flower II was procured.
He said the Port Authority is now “working overtime” to acquire the services of another passenger ferry before the TT Express goes on dry dock. Expressing confidence that more vessels would be available during the upcoming winter period, Rowley said the Authority will broaden its search to all parts of the spectrum to find an appropriate passenger vessel for the seabridge. He reminded reporters that Cabinet has already agreed to put out a tender for a new cargo vessel built to Government’s specifications. Rowley said this arrangement could result in a two to three year contract being signed for that vessel’s usage. He said once the Spirit and the Express have undergone their long overdue maintenance, they should be able to service the seabridge for at least another two years.
Rowley disclosed stakeholders agreed to a proposal to appoint two more Tobagonians to the Port Authority’s board of directors to ensure there is no repeat of the problems now facing the seabridge. He also announced that a committee comprising representatives from Government, the Tobago House of Assembly and the private sector will be established to deal with operational issues on the seabridge. He rejected claims by some that yesterday’s meeting was “a waste of time.” Rowley said contrary to those claims, the discussions were fruitful.
Asked if he felt something was crooked in the procurement of the Ocean Flower II, Rowley replied, “Yes. My yes means a lot to me.” On whether the Port Authority ignored reports which suggested something went wrong in the vessel’s procurement, Rowley said, “I don’t have that information and I don’t think I can come to that conclusion.” However he added, “I am sure that the appropriate investigation or investigations can clarify those for us.” Last Thursday, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young said the Authority is not conducting any probe into the Ocean Flower II’s procurement.
Rowley welcomed a JSC probing this matter because, “It will involve persons providing answers in full public view and explaining themselves at the level of the Parliament.” He promised Government will, “cooperate with it (JSC) fully.” Rowley also expected the Port and all other interested parties to fully cooperate with the JSC. The JSC is scheduled to hold its hearing at Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre on September 4 at 1 pm. Rowley welcomed the Commission’s probe “for whatever purpose and benefit” it could have.
Saying he awaited Mouttet’s report, Rowley slammed attempts by the Opposition and other people to “demonise” Mouttet. He countered all this would achieve is that if a citizen is asked in the future to either serve on the board of any State agency or conduct any investigation on the State’s behalf, “they will think twice before they serve.” Rowley added, “That is what some people want to achieve.”
He said whatever Mouttet’s findings are “in no way influences or affects what others can do in their investigations.” Saying it is the business community that has complained the loudest about problems on the seabridge, Rowley said Mouttet is “a highly respected member” of that community. Rowley said he had no problem, “asking a member of the business community to look at the State’s operations to see what is going on there.”
He said a three-member committee appointed recently by Cabinet is looking at operational issues at the port. He said even with a separate company running the ferry service, there were numerous operational problems, including the scheduled drydocking of vessels. Rowley also said Government was aware of problems facing the airbridge and these will be addressed. He said Government is still looking at pursuing legal action against the owners of the Super Fast Galicia for breach of contract.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was unconvinced by Rowley’s statements. In a release hours after the news conference, she reiterated her call for the dismissals of Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and the Port Authority’s board. She condemned Rowley’s pronouncements as, “an unabashed attempt to divert attention from the allegations of corruption” the procurement of the Ocean Flower II. She said the public deserves transparency and accountability on this issue. “There should be no contamination nor compromising of evidence in the interim,” Persad-Bissessar said.