PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley Monday said he would not allow his government to be “blackmailed” as he testified before a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament probing the procurement practices involved in acquiring a boat to service the sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago.
Rowley presented to the JLC, a report undertaken by businessman Christian Mouttet, the sole investigator into the circumstances surrounding the procurement of two vessels, which could form the basis of legal action in the future.
In his lengthy appearance before the JLC, Rowley said that the Port here is “an area of darkness” in need of some light given the impact of its operation on the economic development of the country.
He said overtime, irregularities, conflict of interest among other issues had developed ‘as a matter of course” at the port and that there were some people “who would want to vigorously defend the status quo.
“I have no doubt that there are those who are quite happy with what’s going on at the port,” Rowley told the JSC, noting that when he began examining the situation regarding the operation of a boat on the sea bridge, he became aware of some “serious irregularities”.
He noted for instance that in 2013 when a vessel was being sought to service the sea bridge, a lawyer, who was originally hire to advice the Board of Directors of the Trinidad and Tobago Port Authority, on the procurement, subsequently became involved in providing a ship to the port.
“This is absolutely astounding,” Rowley said, noting that the agreement called for millions of dollars.
He said up until April 2016, the agreement survived successive governments and remained in place, but that the situation changed dramatically when the owners of the vessel insisted on a five year contract estimated at TT$300 million (One EC dollar=US$0.16 cents) without tender in order for them to be able to purchase the vessel.
He said while the agreement had called for the vessel in question to be operational for a few more months, the owners had indicated that the vessel would be pulled in April 2016, if their request was not adhered to.
“The government which I lead will in no way be blackmailed,” Prime Minister Rowley said, noting that the agreement which had been extended on at least four occasions had also stipulated that should the vessel be removed earlier than under the accord, it had to be replaced by one of equal ability to service the sea bridge.
Rowley said that the Mexican owners of the vessel, the Cobo Star, which is among vessels now servicing the sea bridge, had written to a senior official of the Port Authority, indicating that they were prepared to hold discussions directly with the authorities rather than go through a third party.
He said the letter from the company, which he read out to the JSC, was never seen by the chairman of the board of directors, whom he had called to his office to discuss the matter.
Rowley repeated earlier statements that some people within the port were ‘defending their personal interests” urging the JSC “to put an end to this.
“It (the JSC) will bring new ground if it holds people accountable,” Rowley said, indicating that he intends to make public the report submitted by Moutett.
He said it had also been presented to the Parliament and the Office of the Attorney General.
Last month, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago said it had cancelled the agreement with the owners of the “Ocean Flower 2” after the ferry failed to arrive here in keeping with the date originally agreed to begin servicing the bridge.
The other vessel, Cabo Star” is providing both passenger and cargo service between the islands.
The procurement of the vessels has become a major issue here with the main opposition United national Congress (UNC) and some sections of the private sector here calling for an investigation into the matter.
Last month, Rowley said his administration “is not unmindful” of the situation regarding the sea bridge “and is currently engaged in making all reasonable efforts to remedy the situation in the short term.” – CMC