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Undoing OPV deal an impressive success

It's taken more than two years, but the People's Partnership administration has finally put its own stamp on centrepiece National Security policy. The administration has also earned respect for so handling the repudiation of former People's National Movement policy as to come out on top in the historic cancellation of a multi-billion-dollar deal with the UK builders of three offshore patrol vessels.

All's well that ends well, and it has ended that way for politically under-fire Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. Now identified as leader of the project that disentangled Trinidad and Tobago from a risky involvement with a large international military shipbuilder, his reputation has earned at least a respite from the beating taken over his role in the infamous Section 34.

The administration had inherited the burdensome commitment to the relatively large OPVs, and the expansive maritime defence strategy that governed their hopeful acquisition and deployment. Funds, in the multi-millions, already expended in furtherance of that strategy, such as training of Coast Guard sailors, must now be written off.

Escaping a fall into a deeper financial hole, Trinidad and Tobago is, nevertheless, paying the price of past governmental missteps. Operation of the OPVs was conceived as a military megaproject at a time when the Manning administration, flush with energy income, was hardly motivated to default to least-cost options.

In the eyes of a post-boom administration, the OPVs' capital and recurrent costs appeared both formidable and forbidding. Moreover, it was far from a done deal: delivery dates had been repeatedly postponed; and in tests on completed vessels, the guns apparently failed to shoot straight, or at all.

The Attorney General cited the "sound legal and technical advice" on which it acted.

The settlement internationally confirmed last week—by which Trinidad and Tobago will receive enough from the shipbuilder to repay the loan taken to acquire the OPVs, and then some—had been the subject of false media reports, both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the UK. Such misreporting, based on still-mysterious sources of disinformation, provided the opportunity, eagerly taken by the PNM opposition, for premature gloating over the government's and the country's alleged financial and policy mishaps.

Now sucking salt, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley has shown himself incapable of giving credit where it is due. Instead, he is holding out that the government has been somehow "lucky", and is casting aspersions by innuendo on naval acquisition arrangements being pursued with Colombia.

 Freed of the inherited OPV ball and chain, the administration must now hasten to implement its own "maritime wall" system of coastal defence stations, suitably equipped with forces and with fast-interceptor vessels. Meanwhile, also, it should ensure the fullest transparency in whatever collaborations that are being carried out with Colombia.

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