THE EDITOR: Before the joint select committee of Parliament started its hearings into the Tobago ferry fiasco, based on my knowledge of the operations of the port and the role of government, as publicly explained by the Minister of Works and Transport, I posed the question as to whether or not the current legislated arrangement for the management of the port is appropriate to ensure its efficient operation in the interest of the population as a whole?
Now, one month later, having spent over 30 hours watching and listening intently to the committee interrogating, among others, the chairs and members of the current and previous boards of the Port Authority; the top management of the port; the previous minister of transport, Fitzgerald Hinds; the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport; the leader of the recognised majority trade union at the port, the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU); an employee of a private company owned by the SWWTU, which has a contract with the port to provide catering and cleaning services on the ferries operated by the port; the local technical expert retained by the port, Capt Alfred McMillan of Magellan Maritime Services Ltd, and most important of all the Prime Minister himself, I have now concluded that the answer to the question I had posed a month ago — about the appropriateness or otherwise of the current arrangements for the management of the port — is a resounding no.
The information provided to the committee, and by extension to the national community, by all of these “witnesses,” representing the full critical decision-making spectrum for the port, including the level of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, has led to the inescapable conclusion in the national community that the current arrangements for the direction and the overall management and operations of the port constitute an unmitigated disaster and is an ongoing costly failure.
So, it is time to fix this. There is no more any need for debate on whether or not the arrangements for the management and operations of the port need to be fixed. And criminal charges — if any are ultimately indicated out of the various enquires — will take their normal course for matters of this kind in our country. The population should now press the Government to initiate steps to make dramatic and fundamental changes in the framework governing the management and operations of the port.
In this regard, all the evidence that has been presented to the national community over the past two weeks, in particular in respect of the port, raises the question as to exactly what, if any, is the real purpose and authority of the board. It appears to be completely superfluous. The minister, Cabinet and the management of the port are the real decision makers. Why have a board at all? This whole sorry mess demonstrates that it is entirely inappropriate, dysfunctional and indeed unsafe for politicians, whatever their qualifications, experience and good intentions, to have any direct hand whatsoever in the decisions at the port.
And I will go one step further to suggest that what we have learnt about the port is symptomatic of a widespread problem. Accordingly, all necessary constitutional/legislative steps should be taken to ensure that all State-owned businesses must be structured to operate as entities definitively belonging to the State and not to the Government of the day, as is painfully the case today.
A new business model is needed for the port in particular. Perhaps the model as operates for Plipdeco or Petrotrin? What is needed is any business model that definitively removes ministers and the Cabinet from direct decision making in a State-owned business, leaving boards of directors in charge, while retaining the ownership powers of the State to be exercised at appropriate fora, such as at AGMs, on behalf of the people, the real owners — not the Government.
ASHTON S BRERETON (via e-mail)