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Sunday, September 10, 2017

This past week saw the tragic murders of two elderly ladies with no apprehension of the killers, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma to our Caribbean neighbours, more scandalous revelations in respect of the sea bridge, and the trite but predictable poll results which stated what we all already knew—that crime is our number one problem and that this Government, like its predecessor, is incapable of getting a handle on it.

What is interesting to note is that in the one poll that compared prime ministerial approval, after the first two years in office respectively, PM Rowley’s approval rating declined from 51 per cent to 42 per cent whereas his predecessor’s approval declined from 54 per cent to 37 per cent, so frankly his predecessor has nothing to crow about.

Her 17-point decline compared to his nine-point decline over the same period is revealing because she was not facing the economic woes that the present Government faces, or if she did, she ignored them while spending like there was no tomorrow.

Perhaps our people back then wisely saw through the propaganda. Not that the Prime Minister himself has anything to crow about either with the botched rollout of the property tax, the failure to get the procurement legislation implemented, the embarrassment caused by the questionable Mc Donald and Le Hunte ministerial appointments, the shutdown of TDC, CNMG, GISL and Caroni Green Limited without consultation, lack of candour in the CL Financial bailout, and the inertia in governance and leadership which gives the impression of incompetence verging on haplessness.

And, of course, the most recent scandal—the collapse of the sea bridge. With no confidence in his country’s institutions, the Prime Minister instead turned to the private sector and appointed a businessman on August 15 to investigate and report within 30 days on the leasing of the by now infamous Cabo Star and Ocean Flower Two.

That report, assuming that it will be produced in time—the deadline is only four days away on September 14—has already been rendered otiose and irrelevant by the Joint Select Committee hearings into the Port Authority which started this week and have made for fascinating viewing.

While Joint Select Committees could always have been appointed by Parliament under its Standing Orders, it was the then UNC government’s amendment to the Constitution in 1999, in its first term in office, which made the appointment of certain JSCs mandatory after a general election and which gave impetus and importance to the whole notion of JSCs and the ability of Parliament to scrutinise and inquire into governmental entities and their conduct.

It was frankly refreshing and informative to finally see and hear the people involved in the procurement (under the PP) of the Superfast Galicia and (under the PNM) of the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower Two, answer questions. Yes, it was obvious that PNM Minister Khan, by focusing his questions on the Galicia and its agent Intercontinental Shipping Limited (ICSL), and UNC Senator Mark, by focussing his questions on the Cabo Star, Ocean Flower Two and Bridgemans, were each intent on painting procurement by the other side as suspicious, even corrupt, or at the very least, mismanaged and negligent, but regardless of the political motivations it was mesmerisingly revealing.

It was clear for all to see that both procurements were murky, done without due diligence or transparent tendering, manipulated by someone somewhere, all resulting in the expenditure of exorbitant amounts of money on unsuitable vessels and their owners, principals and agents.

In relation to the PP Galicia procurement, the external legal adviser to Patt wrote a letter on her law firm’s behalf stating that her law firm had been invited to tender and that ICSL was her firm’s agent for that purpose—the same ICSL that eventually leased the Galicia to Patt.

According to the PS in the Ministry of Works and Transport, ICSL was paid $18 million while the Galicia was docked for months. It enjoyed an extortionate relationship with the State in operating the cargo ferry service until the State could take no more.

The Cabo Star/Ocean Flower Two/Bridgemans engagement was just as bad. Bridgemans was shown to have no track record, according to a global firm was “unviable” and its finances “disastrous”, and only started up in September 2015.

Both the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower Two are decades old and the cost of leasing them is unjustifiable and way above market prices. On top of that, the truckers’ representatives said that the Cabo Star had no washroom facilities so that truckers have to urinate in the face basins or into the sea. Imagine this in 2017.

And what was also sadly revealed was the sheer dysfunction in the operation of Patt both at board level and in respect of the relationship between successive boards and upper management.

This seems to be the practice regardless of who is in power. There is no clarity as to what is the correct tendering process for procurement, and it may even be suggested on the evidence so far that the procurement “process” follows a selection already made, which of course suggests impropriety.

If anything, the JSC hearings, like the polls, revealed what we all already knew. The more things change, the more they remain the same—except for the plight of the people, which gets worse with each passing day.

Mickela Panday


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