THE HEATED exchanges on Tuesday between Government and Opposition senators over a new ferry being leased once more brings the sea bridge into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Instead of achieving a reliable, efficient service, it seems the State is trapped in a ferry-go-round of allegations and counter-allegations regarding procurement activities, with no end to the politicisation in sight.
Whatever the policy position of the Government, the time has come for the ferry service to be subject more categorically to a heightened degree of transparency if only to fend off the cat-and-mouse games triggered by Opposition and activist allegations.
Such is the degree of fogginess surrounding the new acquisition that even the name of the vessel is subject to uncertainty. The one person who should know it best, Minister of Works Rohan Sinanan, has trouble pronouncing it.
Equally murky are the allegations of the Opposition who, citing foreign media reports, conclude that a company involved in an arbitration with Austal was the same company that supplied this allegedly defective vessel and that one person tied to it has a criminal record.
The people of this country would be better served if definite statements are made by the Government of the day regarding purchases tied to critical infrastructure. That means answering questions fully.
Equally, the country would also be better served by an Opposition that acts responsibly in how it chooses to raise questions. It’s important not to induce panic and to exercise caution when dealing with information that is, for the moment, speculative. Especially when litigious private companies are involved. And especially when the vessel’s seaworthiness is being questioned.
Procurement in relation to the fast ferry has repeatedly been subject to bad publicity while the real issue of the need for this vital inter-island service goes unaddressed. This must not be allowed to happen again. We can’t keep moving from distraction to distraction. It’s time to bring closure to this matter.
The best way to do this is to acquire vessels that fulfil our infrastructure needs and to do so in circumstances that are way above board. If this means taking in front with information or subjecting the whole process to the rigours of the public procurement regime, so be it.
Meanwhile, who is focusing on evaluating how the Galleons Passage and the TT Spirit are working? The Galleons in particular has been subject to complaints. Who is also monitoring and reporting on the cost factors involved, which extend beyond procurement and also includes maintenance? Who is tracking the cost to the State of freedom of information litigation in relation to these matters?
While it is never good to act on speculation, perhaps there should be co-operation between the Government and the Opposition when it comes to due diligence of suppliers. In this regard, our Parliament committees can provide a useful service in reviewing ongoing procurement processes.
Both sides have what it takes to end this fast ferry farce and all that is wrong with it.