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Sunday 20 January 2019
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Letters to the Editor

Too few questions about planned boats purchase

THE EDITOR: Local media – both print and electronic – have been conspicuously silent regarding Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s upcoming purchase.

The PM has entered into an arrangement with Australian shipbuilders – Incat and Austral – for the purchase, respectively, of two modern fast ferries and what he described as a “Cape-class” vessel for use by the coast guard to secure the country’s “south-eastern borders.”

For the past 40 years, the Australian government has been updating its maritime strategic defence policy through the publication of white papers that are subject to national scrutiny and approval. I have not seen or read any similar national security document regarding our country’s maritime border protection policy.

Rowley had lamented the absence of scanners at our ports and has fixed that problem. But has this Government systematically studied the issue of maritime border protection?

Do we have a linked and synchronised strategic policy for maritime defence that involves our coast guard, air guard, regiment, the customs and immigration departments and the police service?

The responsibility for border protection is usually shared by diverse elements of the security services. It is usually achieved through a coordinated approach.

This new Cape-class Australian vessel is a sophisticated naval vessel – the most recently commissioned costing Aus$600 million ($3.1 billion). It carries a range of built-in supporting services, eg, facilities for helicopter landings, medical facilities, remote-controlled deck guns and so on.

Does our coast guard possess the workforce expertise required to man and maintain such a vessel round the clock so that it can be fully operationalised? Where does such a vessel fit within our country’s overall border defence strategic policy?

As it stands, there are reports that six of the coast guard’s present vessels are non-operational because of either reported unavailability of funds to purchase fuel on a regular basis or – as with the Tobago ferry fiasco – they lack a structured maintenance programme. What sound objective evidence-based policy informed Rowley’s decision to “buy” this boat?

The Government under his leadership has made a complete mess of a pre-existing and fully functional inter-island sea bridge.

His intrusion into the affairs of the Port Authority has served to expose a profound ignorance of those aspects of maritime organisational infrastructure required for the smooth running of such a service and for the satisfaction of both the travelling public and business community.

The Government’s unsolicited interference into the business of maritime organisation and ferry maintenance, for reasons best known only to Rowley, has been the cause of significant preventable financial loss both to taxpayers and the private business communities. Such interference has inflicted near irreparable harm to an already debilitated tourist sector.

The Prime Minister along with a handful of selected colleagues have purchased a “slow ferry” – the Galleons Passage. Details of this purchase are murky and lack inter-ministerial consistency regarding the services of a broker. He plans to buy two modern fast ferries built in Tasmania. Admittedly they look good. The most recently built one cost Aus$350 million (or $1.8 billion).

Despite all the controversy, dubiety and questionable transparency of the Galleon’s purchase, the PM has “informed” his “subjects” of his intention to borrow further to buy two more ferries and a military vessel. I am concerned that too few questions are being asked.

STEVE SMITH via e-mail

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