Finding the Ferry Facts

Finding the Ferry Facts

The Tobago Ferry issue has gone from bad to worse, with at least four inquiries underway. There are now inquiries being done by:

  1. the Integrity Commission;
  2. PWC, on behalf of the Port Authority Board;
  3. Christian Mouttet and of course,
  4. 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.

TTTI Press release on inter-island ferry. Click to expand.

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.

THA letter. Click image to enlarge

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.”…

and

“…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 –

    1. 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;
    2. 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.;

    3. 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.

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Finding the Ferry Facts: Letter to the Editor – Trinidad Express

The Editor,

The Tobago Ferry issue has now landed at an unfortunate impasse, with the PM chairing a meeting of Stakeholders next week Monday.

The loud allegations of corruption and bad practice are as varied as the defensive claims by public officials, so once again we seem to be in a cloudy place. Some real clarity is needed urgently, if we are to restore public confidence, not to mention the required level of service for the Tobago Ferry.

alisonlewis-rohansinanan
PATT chairperson, Alison Lewis and Minister of Work Rohan Sinanan. © Trinidad Express

Given that both Minister Sinanan and Port Authority Chair, Ms Alison Lewis, have welcomed any investigation into this matter, immediate steps need to be taken to clear the air by publishing these details –

  1. Ultimate Beneficial Owner – Who is the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of Bridgman’s Service Group? This is an elementary part of any due diligence process and should be readily available;
  2. Tender Evaluations – The Tender Evaluation Reports for the several tender exercises undertaken to replace the Superfast Galicia, including those aborted or suspended exercises. The 39th recommendation of the Uff Report is directly applicable to this fiasco –

    “…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.;

  3. 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.

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.

Afra Raymond
Port of Spain

TSTT Matters – How the MASSY-TSTT Merger Affects Us

I: Transparency issues

TSTT’s share purchase agreement, announced on 2 May 2017, to buy Massy Communications Ltd has provoked a great deal of sceptical or negative public comment. I will not attempt a critique of that deal since it is well beyond my scope: in any case, the basic details have not been disclosed. We have been told that the price is $255M and that the deal is conditional upon the approval of the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT).

The furore over this huge deal seems to be fueled by these three statements emerging from TSTT –

  1. Transparency – TSTT cannot reveal the details of the deal to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) since it is not obliged to follow either the Integrity in Public Life Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Further, TSTT is required, as a listed entity, to follow the provisions of the 2012 Securities Act in regard to the secrecy of pending transactions. What is more, TSTT and Massy Communications Ltd are both bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
  2. Accountability – The $255M purchase price is funded by $1.9Bn which TSTT raised from private lenders, so that money is presumed to be outside the definition of Public Money. One assumes, from the tone of those statements, that TSTT did not require a guarantee or letter of comfort from the State.
  3. Good Governance – TSTT stated that the first time the Cabinet would have been aware of this transaction is via the press. This returns to the issue of just where is the lawful and proper boundary between the Cabinet and the various State Enterprises for which it is responsible. This again sparks the debate as to whether TSTT is really a State Enterprise.

The second and third points will be covered in the next section. Continue reading “TSTT Matters – How the MASSY-TSTT Merger Affects Us”

Bond issues

One of the major issues facing the country as this recession unfolds is the pressing need to review the State Enterprise sector. A Cabinet-appointed committee, chaired by Dr Terrence Farrell, was established to examine the SOE sector, but we have no idea yet as to their recommendations.

petroOne of the hugest State Enterprises is Petrotrin, a major player in the national economy, with the immense influence of the OWTU on the side of its workers. A great deal of discussion is now emerging on whether or how Petrotrin could be restructured or privatised.

On 9th October 2015, the newly-installed Petrotrin Board issued a Press Release under the rubric “Facing and Overcoming Our Current reality” – the primary challenge was said to be ‘high and increasing debt’. Continue reading “Bond issues”

VIDEO: Morning Brew – 12 April 2016

CNC3 LogoThis is my 12th April 2016 ‘Morning Brew’ interview with CNC3’s Hema Ramkissoon on the Invaders’ Bay matter…it is also the first time I made public comments on the JCC imbroglio, albeit after a sneaky series of questions from Hema…I guess that’s what crafty interviewers do, eh? As it happens, the questions remain outstanding on both those issues.

Programme Date: 12 April 2016
Programme Length: 00:22:32