It was not any “Chinese madness” or absurdity which led to the decision to consider the acquisition of a long range vessel (LRV) from China, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar insisted yesterday.
“It was no on-the-spot decision,” she reiterated, speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
“Far from it. It is a matter that we have been looking at for some time,” she said, adding that a technical team had been mandated to look at this issue some time ago.
The team consisted of former Chief of Defence Staff Anthony Franklyn, who has more than 40 years’ military experience; Dr Badri Maharaj; naval architect Courtney Lynch; and Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard, Hadyn Pischard.
They travelled to South Korea, the Netherlands and Colombia to search for the right vessels to serve the naval and border security needs of Trinidad and Tobago, said the PM.
“Contrary to what is being referred to as an on-the-spot decision, those with the requisite knowledge and experience were the ones who travelled and did the assessments based upon criteria agreed upon by the stakeholders in the Ministry of National Security.”
The Prime Minister stated that in terms of the procurement of the LRV, two vessels were being shortlisted—one from South Korea and one from China.
She said before any purchase is concluded, the technical team has to have further discussions on the shortlist and a final decision would then be made.
The Prime Minister said the team would look at the specifications and costs.
“Within a short time I will ask the Minister of National Security to do what is necessary to conclude the recommendations as to which vessel Trinidad and Tobago would want to purchase.
“If a purchase is made from China or from any other country, it will be in accordance with the agreed criteria and technical requirements, as well as the professional opinions and recommendations of the team,” Persad-Bissessar said.
“What we are doing is what we should have done all along. It has been a careful, slow process.”
The Prime Minister said the technical team had been assigned to do an audit of the Coast Guard’s assets. That team advised that T&T needed LRVs and fast patrol boats, among other things.
“When the (Chinese) President was here (last year), it was one of the issues we raised, so the discussions have been going on for more than one year.”
The Prime Minister said the acquisition of assets for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard was one of the priorities of her Government.
In response to a question, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said the Government’s strategy was very different from that followed by the previous administration.
He said the previous government said nothing about a maritime lockdown.
“Their plan was to have three OPVs (offshore patrol vessels) without any concept of operation or looking at the area of responsibility.”
Griffith added that there was no motion of a three-tiered system in the last regime.
“So we are not piggybacking on the previous administration’s (ideas)...but we are ensuring that this country gets value for its money.”
He said if T&T had taken the three British-built OPVs, two of them would have been parked off shore because each OPV required 200 persons to operate it and the country would have had only 150 trained persons at the time that those OPVs would have been acquired.