“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
While the T&T Government has not yet signed the dotted line for the purchase of a Chinese-made long-range vessel, National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday assured a decision will be made in the best interest of the country. He said before the final decision was made there would be further discussions with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar upon her return from China.
Persad-Bissessar, on an official State visit, said she was aware that China was building two LRVs and pleaded with China’s Premier Li Keqiang to sell one. Griffith said among the key areas to be looked at before purchase would be finance, the specifics of the vessel, including the electronic system and compatability and maintenance. “I can assure that the Prime Minister has been excellent as the chair of the National Security Council. China has given us a proposal and we are exploring it.
“This is not an off-the-shelf item. We also need to look at what the Chinese has to offer and whether this vessel would be compatible with our system and could be linked to our radar,” Griffith said. On the issue of transparency he said there was consultation with the Committee for the Acquisition of Naval Vessels, chaired by retired commodore Anthony Franklin. The issue of tendering was raised by Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert who said he was bothered by the tendering procedures.
Griffith said: “Mr Imbert raised several questions regarding tendering. What is explicit here is that this has nothing to do with politics or willy-nilly decisions. “It was based upon sound advice from our naval experts. Is Mr Imbert suddenly a naval expert? Every time you try to do something somebody will find some excuse why it should not be done.
“The PNM buying a blimp which turned out to be a waste, that is absurd. The 12 interceptors which are now all down, that is absurd. The purchase of four helicopters at six times the cost and which could hardly be used that is absurd,” Griffith added. He also shot back at Imbert who described the long-range vessel as being “more or less the same as an offshore patrol vessel.”
In 2007, the PNM government, of which Imbert was a Cabinet member, signed a £150 million contract with a company called VT Shipbuilding to build and commission vessels to patrol local waters and provide naval protection and surveillance. British defence manufacturer BAE Systems eventually acquired VT Shipbuilding in 2009. In 2010 the People’s Partnership Government cancelled the contract because the vessels were not built according to specifications and the weapons system was defective.
Griffith called on Imbert to answer that if there was no difference between the OPV and the long-range vessel why then did the PNM shell out twice the amount to purchase the OPV. “I am very glad Mr Imbert said there is no difference because he should tell the nation why then did the PNM spend some $800 million when the cost of these vessels is half the price? “He needs to answer that, so the big difference between a long range patrol vessel and an OPV is some $400 million less,” Griffith said.
Imbert responds Somebody “ketch a vaps”
The intended acquisition of the vessel was a reflection that “somebody ketch a vaps” to go to China to purchase a vessel which the country knows nothing about, including what material it was made of, Imbert said. He called on Griffith and the Prime Minister to say exactly why they chose China as opposed to an European country which had a reputation for building fine vessels. “They need to answer why China, which is not among the leading shipbuilding countries in the world. Why not Australia, Israel or Britain?
“There is a complete lack of transparency. What is so special about China? And therein lies the problem,” Imbert added. On the issue of recommendations made by Franklin, Imbert said he had the greatest respect for him but Franklin had never built a ship in his life. “He has operated vessels but I don’t think he is up-to-date on shipbuilding. It is very easy for Mr Griffith to scapegoat a nice man like Mr Franklin. It is improper,” Imbert said.