Monday, February 19, 2018

Rowley questions Govt on payback of billion-dollar loan

Trinidad and Tobago still has to repay the loan it took for the purchase of the offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).

How much is it still owing the bank? And is that going to result in a net loss to the country?

These are some of the questions Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is calling on Government to answer.

Speaking by telephone to the Express, Rowley said yesterday he was not going to take as fact anything Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says until he (Rowley) gets confirmation from an official document or some credible source.

"You can't trust anything this Government tells you!" he said.

Rowley was responding to the announcement that this country was to receive $1.3 billion from BAE, under an arbitration agreement arising out of the decision of the Government to cancel the order for three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs).

Among the questions requiring answers, he said, were: "What did we claim for and what did we get settled in our favour? Did we get back all of the money we had borrowed to pay BAE and how much we are still owing the bank. What were the ancillary charges arising out of the cancellation?"

He also added that many T&T sailors were sent overseas for training in preparation for becoming the crew to work on those ships.

"That cost us millions of dollars; did we get that back or is this another one of the losses that we suffered as a result of the cancellation?"

"Give us the whole picture. Until we get the whole picture, I would not be in a position to say whether the Government came out on top or below because there are a lot of ancillaries," Rowley stated.

"There are a lot of questions we need answers for before we can fully understand this situation, and I hope that the Government would be very forthcoming and truthful.

"If you go out to buy something, and you take a loan and you change your mind halfway, it does not affect the loan. And if you get some money back, you still have the loan to discharge, which would include the interest payments," Rowley said. "So this talk about having money to spend on schools and hospitals, etc, is just ole talk."

Rowley also called on Government to say who was paying the substantial legal fees (which had stood at more than $16 million, according to figures given by Ramlogan in February).

Both Rowley and Diego Martin North-East MP Colm Imbert asked how could the Government come out with a profit of $300 million from the arbitration settlement. They said their understanding was that BAE had been paid $1 billion by the Government.

"So how could we get $300 million more?" they asked.

Imbert said he looked at the statement in the Financial Times from BAE, which said it expected a settlement of between 125 to 130 million pounds ($1.3 billion), and they had allowed for a trade liability of 125 million pounds and the settlement (in the arbitration) was consistent with that.

"If BAE sends out a release saying they expect to come out on top, then why is the Attorney General saying we won the arbitration?" he asked.

Imbert said it was impossible to comment on the issue without certain crucial facts.

"When you are making a contractual claim, it is based on what you actually lost.... How could we get back $300 million more than what we actually paid out?"

Imbert said he had to do some research because the AG's statement made absolutely no sense.

He also noted that the total OPV programme was $2.2 billion, of which the vessels cost about $1.75 billion, and the rest of the money was for training and maintenance.

"While the maintenance fees would not have been incurred, you still had to pay for the cost of the shipyard while the boats were being made up, as well as training costs. My understanding is that we borrowed the whole $2.2 billion. How much of it we had received, how much was paid to BAE and to the British Navy for training our people; we need to get that information," said Imbert.