As choppy as the hearings of the parliamentary inquiry into the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-Island Ferry Service sometimes became, the fact remains that the proceedings have been a good thing for transparency and governance.
The appearance of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley before the Joint Select Committee on Land and Physical Infrastructure on Monday was a significant milestone, demonstrating faith in Parliament’s processes and adding renewed vigour to the bipartisan committee system.
While Rowley yesterday expressed strong misgivings over what he described as “nasty” tactics used by an Opposition member of the committee, even he will be hard-pressed to deny that the committee proceedings have, overall, shone a light on the operations of the Port Authority and the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-Island Transport Company.
The JSC was made privy to a wide scope of material in relation to the operations of the ferry service.
There were disclosures of high-level wrangling at the level of the authority, serious questions about procurement practices in relation to vessels, and even issues relating to catering and cleaning — including allegations of sexual harassment. In other words, bacchanal and bobol emerged.
Overall, there were some complaints about the committee process, such as the non-appearance of Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Kelvin Charles, allegations of unfair proceedings by one witness, and the aforementioned complaint by Rowley of misleading conduct. Yet, it is for the committee, when preparing its final report, to come to its own conclusions in relation to these issues.
We certainly hope the JSC will treat with all that has been disclosed with urgency and that whatever recommendations are made are actionable. At the very least, the report into this matter — which should be made public — will have persuasive authority when it comes to the setting of Government policy moving forward.
It is also within the power of the JSC to refer matters to the relevant law enforcement authorities should it have grounds to do so. But while hearings concluded this week, it is clear that the work of the committee will continue.
Members of the public and stakeholders have been invited to make submissions.
People who are in a position to make a contribution should take advantage of this invitation, which ends next Monday.
We look forward to the findings of the JSC but note we have seen enough to appreciate the significant challenges in relation to the inter-island ferry service. The evidence reveals a breakdown of processes and a need for a review of the structures of the port. Yet again in our country’s history, a special purpose company has been unable to manage public procurement without commess. This underlines the need for the State to enforce the new laws designed to eliminate sleaze in the award of contracts.
In this stead, we are heartened by Rowley’s assurance on Monday that the State is ready to proclaim the new public procurement law upon the appointment of a regulator by President Anthony Carmona. Carmona must make that appointment with dispatch.
Whatever the JSC concludes, this issue is far from over. Questions remain over the validity of the contract — even as a vessel has now re-emerged in our waters — as well as a line of credit. Though a new tendering process has begun, the same company that has raised suspicion has retendered. Hopefully, the JSC will offer solutions. It has already done well by shining a light on these turbulent matters.