Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday agreed that something crooked may have gone down with the procurement process for the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower II vessels.
Rowley was asked the following question by CCN investigative journalist Mark Bassant at a news conference following his meeting with stakeholders at the Magdalena Grand, Tobago: “Dr Rowley, as head of the Cabinet and Government, are you convinced that something has drastically gone wrong and is crooked in this transaction?”
“Yes,” Rowley responded.
Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, line minister with responsibility for the port, was present at the news conference
The Prime Minister also noted that from the documents he saw with respect to the acquisition of the Galicia he believed three could be criminal conduct and he had passed this on to the Attorney General.
“What surprised me is that having said that, as Prime Minister of this country to that specific situation ... what surprised me is the level of bold-facedness that attended the attempt to find a ferry in this year under this Government,” he said.
The Prime Minister was drilled by the media on the ferry fiasco, including whether due diligence background checks were done on Bridgemans Services.
Rowley reiterated something was wrong and the investigation by businessman Christian Mouttet will unearth more.
Rowley met with stakeholders for almost three hours yesterday. Some of them described the meeting as a “waste of time” to journalist Andy Johnson.
Rowley said, however, “I don't think I wasted my time. As a matter of fact I was very happy that I came here.”
He noted that a number of issues were raised other than the ferries.
'I don't know'
He said coming out of the meeting, it was decided the port board will be expanded to include two people from Tobago to ensure Tobago's interest is present.
He said it was also agreed a committee be established with the Prime Minister, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Central Government to focus on operationalising the proposals that have been put to the meeting.
“And if that is a waste of time, then I have pleasantly wasted mine,” he said.
Rowley was asked why wasn't there an inspection before the cancellation of the Ocean Flower contract.
“I don't know,” he replied.
He disclosed that the Mouttet report would be made public.
He also said he welcomed the call for a Joint Select Committee (JSC) probe as well as the probe by the Integrity Commission.
The Prime Minister was asked about possible Mouttet conflict and comments that he is a PNM financier.
Rowley said Mouttet is a highly respected member of the business community of Trinidad and Tobago.
He said it is the business community who have been complaining about the unacceptable developments “and therefore I see no problem in asking a member of the business community to look at the state operations there to see what is going on there”.
Rowley said he awaits the report and it in no way influences or effects what others are doing in their investigation.
“To say that there is no authority to do that and to try to demonise Mr Mouttet , all that will accomplish is that anytime in the future a member of the public is asked to serve this country, whether on a board of any investigation, they will think twice and that is what some people want to achieve,” he said.
He said in the short term the port will be working overtime using the widest spectrum to find an appropriate vessel in the shortest possible time.
“What happened before is that the port ended up restricting its search and selecting under questionable circumstances, that is now subject of am investigation. Now, the Government has instructed the port to open the search in the widest possible way and in the quickest possible time get a vessel here,” he said.
He said looking for a vessel at this time would be easier as it is the end of the summer period.
The medium-term solution, he said, will be going out to tender for a vessel for a two- to three-year contract which will give time to place an order for a new vessel built to “our specification” for delivery in the long term.
Rowley said the port is also tasked to resolve issues associated with the Cabo Star.
The PM explained that the three-man committee led by former Defence Force official Lyle Alexander also comprises of the port engineer and another person with maritime background — a former marine superintendent.
He said the mandate of this committee is to look at the operations of the ferry service.
He explained there were issues of the fast ferries not being dry docked and becoming the “slow ferry” as well as reports of the integrity of the service because of its operational aspects.
He noted that in order to provide this fast ferry service to Tobago, the port created a separate ferry service company to operate it, and even with that in place, certain operational things were not being done.
Rowley said Government is very cognizant of the hardships faced by Tobagonians and Government will look at measure to bring relief but this will not fall within the remit of any compensation.
He also disclosed he will meet with the labour movement tomorrow afternoon. See Page 4