Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday slammed the management of the port of Port of Spain for corrupt practices while taking responsibility for the fiasco that resulted in the Tobago sea bridge being without a proper ferry service at present.
He told the Joint Select Committee on Land and Physical Infrastructure yesterday at the Office of the Parliament that his familiarity with the operations of the management of the port before and after he became Prime Minister has led him to the conclusion that “it is an area of darkness into which some severe lighting needs to be shone.”
What has happened overtime at the port, he said, is that certain practices, conflicts, irregularities and indifference have developed on the port and its operations. In any rectification, he said, there would be those who would want to vigorously defend the status quo, and even defend themselves because as bad as the situation is, it works very well for them.
Noting that the port spends a large amount of money to obtain goods and in particular services, he said, the arrangement in which public money is being spent to make these services available has attracted a certain kind of behaviour and response which is worrisome.
Unhappy about the situation, he said, he took certain steps to address it including commissioning a one-man investigation into the procurement process of the cargo vessel the Cabo Star to replace the Superfast Galicia, as well as, the passenger vessel, the Ocean Flower 2.
The report of the one man investigation done by businessman Christian Mouttet, he said, he will make available to the Parliament by way of the JSC, and to the Attorney General for further advice. The Mouttet report, he said, is a compendium of documents that could assist any proper investigation.
“If there is any rectification, and worse, if there is any accountability of persons to be held accountable at any stage,” he said, there will be evidence “if it is likely to end up in a court of law.” Noting that the issue of procurement of vessels for the sea bridge has been engaging the public since April 2014 with the search to replace the Warrior Spirit, Rowley said, documents showed that in operations at the port the procurement exercise for a new vessel morphed into the attorney who was hired to give legal advice became the searcher, and when five vessels were found, the attorney sought to advice on which should be chosen.
The lawyer subsequently became a supplier of the vessel, the Galicia, by way of agent. This contract, he said, involved many tens of millions of dollars. This was just one incident that convinced him there was wrong doing or corrupt practice taking place on the port.
That way of doing business, he said, continued until April 2016 under two governments and under three boards. During that time several attempts to go out for tender were aborted. All extensions to contracts were without tendering and all tender processes were frustrated.
“This and similar interests at the port,” he said, “had the effect of fracturing the board and dividing the management into camps as to who was for and against certain decisions.”
Even with a new minister in place in 2016, he said, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago was putting to Government that the arrangement of the a five-year $300-million a year contract by the principals of the Galicia failing which they would pull the vessel from service.
“This is a procurement process to which no Government of Trinidad and Tobago should subscribe, and no Government should find itself in a situation where a supplier of a service or goods could tell a Government that, I am going to do this on these terms failing which I will make trouble for you,” he said.
“The Government which I lead will in no way be so blackmailed.”
He said a lot is happening at the port beyond the ferry issue and all are having a negative impact on it as its business contracts into oblivion as the ports in Jamaica and Santo Domingo takes over its business. There is also at present, he said, a questionable procurement of tractor/trucks.
Taking responsibility for the current fiasco involving the questionable acquisition of the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2, Rowley it just goes to show how the management of the port misled the board, which in turn misled the minister with responsibility for the port and who in turn misled Cabinet. He also apologised to the people of Tobago who have been inconvenienced, saying that out of this issue, they should come a better service.