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PM takes responsibility

Published: 
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
PATT must fix chronic issue but...
Joint Select Committee member Wade Mark, left, speaks to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley after the PM finished his session before the committee last night.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last night accepted full responsibility for the ongoing sea bridge fiasco, but insisted the new Port Authority of T&T (PATT) board chaired by Alison Lewis has to treat with the “chronic unacceptabilities and conflicts” going forward.

“And I say all along, that today I am Prime Minister, I lead a Government… we take responsibility for what has gone on there under our tenure and what is going on there now," Rowley said, following his two and half hour testimony before the Joint Select Committee (JSC) which was chaired by Stephen Creese at the J Hamilton Maurice Room, Tower D, Port-of-Spain.

Having seen documents on the procurement of the Cabo Star, Ocean Flower 2 and the Super Fast Galicia, whose contract was terminated in April, Rowley said “inequity and irregularities” had taken place which can very well end up in a court of law.

Part of these documents would have been in the report recently submitted to him by sole investigator Christian Mouttet, he said.

While in Barbados in August, Rowley said what got him concerned was when a whistle blower contacted him, asking if he was aware the Cabo Star was owned by a Mexican entity called Baja Ferries. Rowley said the company had found out that T&T was on the market for a cargo vessel and its owners had communicated with the port and offered the vessel to the port management. He said the whistle blower provided two emails, which he read into the record.

“These documents are in the Mouttet report," Rowley said.

Rowley said the email was from one Oscar Romano dated May 25, 2017, and sent to [email protected]

The email was addressed to PATT CEO Leon Grant informing him that the Cabo Star could be developed for charter shortly. A letter dated May 25 then followed the email, which was addressed to Grant, informing him of the need for a ferry for the sea bridge.

“Baja ferries has the possibility to offer our Cabo Star,” Rowley said Romano told Grant in the correspondence, which had an attached appendix outlining the ferry’s specifications.

The vessel at that time, Rowley said, was positioned in Mexico and could come to our shores in 12 to 15 days after departing from its destination. Rowley said Romano had preferred to enter into discussions directly with PATT if they were interested in the offer.

“When I saw these documents given, what was in the public domain and the media, I became very concerned, because what occurred to me is it that here is an owner of a vessel making the vessel available to the port and port not obtaining that vessel from the owner, but either allowing or taking steps to allow the vessel to be made available through a third party.”

The PM said he brought that matter to Lewis’ attention.

“I asked whether she was aware either from management or any form of any owner of the Cabo Star before Bridgemans Services and the chairman indicated that in the dealings with the Cabo Star there was never any other owner.”

Lewis also stated that she unaware of any correspondence coming to PATT from the owner before Bridgemans Services, Rowley noted.

While the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2 were ratified by Cabinet, Rowley said he had full confidence the matter involving the sea bridge fiasco would be addressed. He told JSC members they would have to look at the evidence before them and make their findings.

“I hope we are turning a corner here with this inquiry and it is the intention of this Government to hold people accountable where they are located.”

SUPER FAST GALICIA AGENT OPTS NOT TO TESTIFY

Prime Minister Rowley admitted that the state at the PATT, some of which had “far-reaching consequences,” was beyond the ferry service. He said he felt “out of this evil should come some good.”

The PM said what his Government has been dealing with did not start yesterday, “but we cannot allow it to continue.”

In fielding questions, Rowley was asked by member Wade Mark if it was high irregular for PATT to sign two charter party agreements for the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2 without seeing the vessels. Rowley opted not to respond.

Rowley also thanked Mouttet, saying he had worked “pro borno” in putting together a compendium of the documents which will be forwarded to Parliament and made public.

Mark asked Rowley if Mouttet, who owns Agostini, had threatened to take legal action against the Government for being owed $140 million, which took place before his appointed in August.

“I have absolutely no knowledge of what my colleague has just raised," Rowley replied.

Rowley said he selected Mouttet based on his experience in the business community and competence “and I virtually had to twist his arm to get him to undertake the assignment.”

The JSC also told the PM that local agent for the Super Fast Galicia, Inter-continental Shipping Ltd's John Powell, had opted not to testify.