THE MANY kinks that have beset the path of the Galleons Passage from China to Trinidad could be of no comfort to Tobagonians in particular and, more generally, to a now tired business community on both sides of our twin-island republic who want a quick end to the troubling saga of the Galleon’s journey.
Facing difficult questions last week, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who leads the committee responsible for the acquisition of the Galleons Passage, and who also would have been so tired of having to defend the the delays of the ferry that he chose to refer questions to the National Infrastructural Development Company (Nidco). Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan also declined to respond to questions, directing the queries back to the Finance Minister in a mobius strip of press evasion circularity.
This shutdown of communications channels with the media is in stark contrast to the brisk chest beating that accompanied the announcement of the planned purchase of the boat in January. Since then, there has been a refreshingly open and sometimes unorthodox string of communications from the Finance Minister, including news bursts that debuted on a Twitter feed attributed to Imbert as substantive author.
Over the last six months, there have been brisk updates on the progress made on moving the vessel from its Guangzhou berth to the desperately underserved sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago. Built for a Venezuelan ferry operator and owned by the Sea Transport Corporation of Australia, this country’s search team was lucky to be able to step in with US$17.4 million when a purchase collapsed. That’s a sum that the Finance Minister has often described as a bargain and in the flush of triumph, Imbert promised that the boat would get here by April.
That was always a hopeful estimate, and weather conditions quickly scuttled such hopes as the Galleons Passage made its way from port to port on its journey to its new home. But the most recent port of call has raised the most significant and justifiable concerns about the planning for putting the vessel to work in the shortest time possible. In a startling reversal, it was revealed that the Galleons Passage would leave the Damex Shipyard in Cuba without promised retrofitting being done. The reason? The altogether unimpressive discovery that critical equipment and materials could not be sent to Cuba because of international embargoes against the socialist Caribbean nation. This faux pas comes as the nation comes to the end of the school term and the beginning of the July-August vacation period, a time of high traffic between the two islands. At every level, the Finance Minister has not just owned the process of acquiring the Galleons Passage and putting it into service, he has been on top of the communications about its progress. With this latest turn of events the responses and new timelines on the journey must come from him to lift our confidence that the ferry would be operational very soon between Trinidad and Tobago with no more kinks.