Thursday, December 14, 2017

Questions for Govt over plan to buy LRV

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Mark Fraser

 At a time when an upsurge in murders continues unchecked, a “crime plan” duly authorised and explicated, with signature elements of strategy and hardware assets, has suddenly emerged in the course of the Prime Minister’s state visit to China.  

Chinese premier Li Keqiang heard, before the people of Trinidad and Tobago did, about this country’s need for a long-range vessel (LRV) to “lock down this country’s borders in light of the increase in arms and narco trafficking”. 

The Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration had started tentative discussions with other countries about ways and means of sealing T&T’s porous maritime borders, with cocaine-centred Colombia at one point identified as the preferred partner in this initiative. Those talks apparently bore no fruit, and now China has been chosen as the supplier for an LRV which immediately recalls the Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) ordered by the former PNM administration, but cancelled by the People’s Partnership. 

 So is this a case of a stinkweed by another name now smelling sweet? With her government’s credibility at an all-time low, the Prime Minister and National Security Minister Gary Griffith will have to do some fast talking to remove suspicions that the LRV represents only a late-coming update of the UK-sourced OPVs found in 2010 to be unsuitable and with unworkable firing systems. The UK manufacturer, after mediation, refunded downpayments made under the PNM administration. Now Minister Griffith has to explain why, after shopping around Colombia, Holland, South Korea and Israel, the Chinese LRV is “far superior, cheaper, more effective and better prepared for T&T than the British OPV’’.

According to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, Mrs Persad-Bissessar “was aware that China was building two LRVs and pleaded with Li Keqiang to sell one in the shortest possible time.” The impression given here does not inspire confidence. Did Mrs Persad-Bissessar become “aware” that the Chinese were building LRVs before or after she arrived in China? Also, since the Chinese were presumably not building these advanced vessels just for the fun of it, why should her pleading have so moved their hearts that they shelved whatever plans they had and agreed to sell one LRV to Trinidad and Tobago?

 And why, after hanging fire for four years on this issue, does the Prime Minister now want an LRV in the “shortest possible time”? The most likely answer seems to be that a general election is drawing closer.

More importantly, even if this is the vikey-vie manner in which Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar prosecutes policy, it is hardly likely that the Chinese are so haphazard in their approach. So what will China expect to get in return?