The Tobago Ferry issue has gone from bad to worse, with at least four inquiries underway. There are now inquiries being done by:
- the Integrity Commission;
- PWC, on behalf of the Port Authority Board;
- Christian Mouttet and of course,
- the ongoing live spectacle at the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament on Land & Physical Infrastructure.
I expect the JSC Report to be published in due course, as they always are, given the high level of service delivered by our Parliamentary staff. We do not know the terms of reference of the other inquiries and I would be very surprised if anything solid ever emerges from those quarters, other than the usual, sickening, political blame-game.
There have also been many complaints from citizens and business service organisations, seeking relief from the immense stress which this ferry situation is causing on both sides of the waters. Most notably there have been calls from T&T Transparency Institute for publication of all the procurement details and Fixin’ T&T which requested those details from the Port Authority via the Freedom of Information Act. I support both those calls and would add that, in addition to the requested details, all the Reports of those inquiries must be published. It was also reported that attorneys for the Port Authority had attempted to vary their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, by reference to an undefined concept of the public interest. If those reports are true, then one wonders what is the purpose of the mandatory ‘public interest test‘ as specified at S.35 of the FoIA.
I do not have time to detail the sheer volume and contrariness of the evidence which emerged from the JSC’s several sittings this week, except that despite the evident political gamesmanship on display, it is an effective forum for forcing out the facts. I was stunned to read the THA’s 4 September 2017 letter to the JSC to decline attendance at this important inquiry on the grounds that the inter-island ferry is a matter for the Central Government. There is no doubt that the ferry issue is the greatest concern of the Tobago population at this time, rightly so, yet their elected representatives have refused to attend a lawfully-convened inquiry into that issue. Well I tell you.
But that is not all, not at all. You see, the THA Act specifies the division of responsibilities between the Central Government and the THA. The Fifth Schedule of that Act lists matters for which THA is responsible, while the Sixth Schedule lists those for which it is not responsible.
The sixteenth item in the Fifth Schedule is –
“…Infrastructure, including air and sea transportation, wharves and airports and public utilities;..”
That THA letter was signed by its Senior Legal Counsel.
My point is that the public is paying for this Ferry arrangement, both in terms of actual Public Money and in terms of the tremendous inconvenience and losses, so there can be no reasonable case for further concealment of these critical details.
Just consider Sunday Guardian’s 23 April 2017 article ‘Govt rejects request for secrecy‘. That article reported that the State had rejected a request for a non-disclosure agreement from the agents for the Superfast Galicia. These quotes are directly relevant to this situation –
…Government has rejected a request from Inter-Continental Shipping to keep details of the new arrangement related to the MV Superfast Galicia confidential.
A second legal letter sent by the Ministry of Works and Transport’s attorneys says it is a “matter of national importance” and as such it will continue to be ventilated in the public domain.
However, in a second legal letter sent to the local firm through the law offices of Dr Claude H Denbow, SC, the Ministry of Works and Transport says it notes the request for “some form of non-disclosure about the new arrangements.”…
“…However, it felt that such a request was “untenable” as the matter is of “national importance.”
In the letter from attorney-at-law Donna Denbow, Government says the matter cannot be withheld from being placed in the public domain, adding that it was because of their client’s breach that “this matter has commanded so much public attention.”…”
During the negotiations on the Superfast Galicia, the State took the clear position that those details should not be subject to a non-disclosure agreement. At that stage, the State seemed committed to openness and accountability, so once again I am calling for publication of these details –
- Ultimate Beneficial Owner – Who is the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of Bridgeman’s Service Group and the other firms which offered ferry services? This is an elementary part of any due diligence process and should be readily available;
- Tender Evaluations – The full Tender Evaluation Reports for the several tender exercises undertaken to replace the Superfast Galicia, including aborted or suspended exercises.The 39th recommendation of the Uff Commission of Enquiry Report is directly applicable to this matter –
“…The reviewing of tenders and the making of decisions upon the award of contracts should be undertaken in as transparent a manner as possible, including demonstrating clear compliance with procurement rules, so as to allay suspicion of improper actions or potential corrupt influences…”
We continue to ignore those findings to our collective detriment.;
- Ferry Contracts – The contracts for the Cabo Star and the now-cancelled Ocean Flower Two must now be published in the interests of transparency and accountability.
While there are investigations ongoing into this matter, our history shows that in the end little or nothing comes of these investigations. Information and reports are usually hidden from public scrutiny and accountability, while individuals use these events to score cheap political points.
All the Reports must be published and the responsible parties must face legal action if that is warranted, nothing less will do.
© 2017, Afra Raymond. All Rights Reserved.