Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement that something “crooked” took place in procuring the Ocean Flower II undermines and invalidates any of the findings that the sole investigator appointed to investigate will produce, says UNC MP Dr Fuad Khan.
In addition, the suspension of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) chief executive officer following the appointment of the sole investigator, businessman Christian Mouttet of the “Ferrygate” fiasco, Khan said, “suggests that the culprit, or a scapegoat, has already been identified.”
As sole investigator, Khan said, it was expected that Mouttet would have provided an explanation of what transpired in the negotiations and identify those involved.
Rowley’s announcement a week after Mouttet’s appointment, Khan said, raises the question as to whether Mouttet’s investigation “is meant to uncover the truth surrounding the matter or merely discover facts that may be woven into the narrative being spun by the Prime Minister and his administration.”
He questioned whether stakeholders and the nation can have any confidence in the PATT’s current board acquiring a new vessel, after the fiasco occurred under their watch.
While blame may be pinned on an employee or more, Khan said, it does not excuse board chairman Alison Lewis and the board members who were overseeing the process.
“Red flags should have immediately went up when it was realised that local personnel would have been unable to inspect either of the two vessels prior to the signing of the charter agreement.”
Any other administration would have considered as “gross incompetence bordering on criminal negligence” Lewis finalising negotiations and advising Cabinet to approve the deal before Bridgeman’s Services Group had even fully acquired the cargo vessel Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2, Khan said.
Rowley was again authorising the same individuals, he said, “to conduct a second round of tendering under the same amount of pressure that allowed the ‘crookedness’ of the first one to transpire.”
Despite businesses in Tobago losing millions of dollars during what should have been a peak season for them as vessels currently servicing the sea bridge is not sufficient to handle the traffic, Khan said, Rowley was attempting to deflect from the matter when he should be finding a resolution.
He said a proactive administration would have monitored the situation after the first deadline for delivery of the Ocean Flower II was missed. On the failure to deliver by the second deadline, he said, alternative planning should have immediately gone into place.
Instead, Tobagonians, he said, “were faced with an unnecessarily protracted process where they had to beg the Prime Minister to meet with them personally, only for him to inevitably begin taking emergency action that should have commenced weeks ago.”
No matter who is culpable for the fiasco from within the PATT, Khan said, it is the People’s National Movement government that is responsible for the delay in solving the sea-bridge crisis, that they themselves created “when they decided to abruptly terminate the contract for the MV Superfast Galicia.” (It should be noted that the Superfast Galicia was a cargo and not a passenger vessel.)
As a resident of Tobago, Khan said, Rowley should have “understood and sympathised” with those suffering due to the breakdown of the sea-bridge, and made this a priority issue for his administration.