The cost of the cruiseferry Government is acquiring for the seabridge is priced at US$17.4 million and has a capacity to accommodate 700 passengers and 100 vehicles, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday.
During the question and answer session in the House of Representatives, Imbert compared the cost of purchasing the T&T Express which was US$20 million in 2006, when it was ten years old, and a year later, buying the T&T Spirit for US$60 million, when it was three years old. This vessel being purchased, he reiterated, is “brand new.”
During the procurement process, Imbert said, the vessel was subjected to intensive sea trials. “That is what has happened over the last month. The vessel was identified by way of a world wide search using international experts and the vessel has been procured by NIDCO.” Former transport minister Stephen Cadiz yesterday had his doubts on Imbert’s claims.
“You cannot buy a brand new ferry for the seabridge at US$17.4 million. If what the Finance Minister says is true, then something is very odd,” Cadiz said. “The biggest issue in the acquisition of this vessel,” Cadiz said, “is the procurement procedure.” With accusations flying left, right and centre, Cadiz said Imbert’s statement to Newsday on Thursday when asked for info on the newly acquired vehicle, that “I don’t leak”, is not a responsible one.
“It is not about leaking information. You don’t have to ‘leak’ when taxpayers must be apprised about how you are spending their money.”
While Imbert claims there was a world wide search by international experts for the vessel, Cadiz said, there is no news anywhere from international brokers about TT buying a vessel.
Having four ministers procure a vessel and having the National Infrastructural Development Company rubber stamp said purchase, Cadiz said, is unheard of in public procurement. “Ministers at no time are allowed to be involved in any procurement procedure. This really stinks to high heaven,” he said.
Meanwhile, Imbert yesterday lambasted Newsday’s lead story in yesterday’s paper headlined, ‘Slow Boat To‘Bago’ saying in a press release, “there is absolutely no truth” to it. This story, he said, was completely erroneous, false and misleading.
“The reality is that Government is in the process of finalising the acquisition of a suitable brand-new roll on/roll off (ROPAX) vessel to accommodate passengers and vehicles for the inter-island ferry service, and as further details become available, further information will be made public.”
Imbert’s release however failed to indicate what in Newsday’s story was ‘erroneous, false and misleading’, and efforts to reach him for clarification yesterday proved futile. Newsday reported that the ferry being acquired was built by Singapore Technologies Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited.
A marine industry source yesterday told this reporter the vessel was built to order by a customer who later refused to accept it. As such, it was not one that was built and kept in storage awaiting a buyer. “Therefore, it is not brand new as the minister (Imbert) is claiming,” the source said.