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Adrift in a storm

Published: 
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Passengers arrive at the Port-of-Spain Ferry Terminal to go to Tobago on Thursday. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Days into the fire storm over what appeared to be a total failure to plan and properly manage the crucial inter-island cargo transportation service, comes the revelation by the Attorney General that the contract securing the services of the Super Fast Galicia may have been compromised.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has confirmed to the T&T Guardian that there appears to have been corruption in the extension of the six-month contract to a two-year stint for the vessel during the previous administration.

When the Attorney General’s information is eventually presented to the tax paying public, and if it proves what he has alluded to, it will mean a few things.

First, a crucial service between the islands has been mismanaged. The result will likely be serious inconvenience, mostly to Tobagonians, but more widely to anyone who has business between the islands.

The barge option being suggested by Works and Transportation Minister Rohan Sinanan is a non-starter for the Tobago Chamber of Commerce, and from the tales they tell, rightfully so. It has been tried before, with farcical results: Once, a barge had to be lassoed when it broke free of the tug that was hauling it; on other occasions, goods have been exposed to sea blast and salt water, leaving hardware owners with stock worth no more than buckets of rusty nails.

Although early indications are that the Galicia mismanagement originated with the previous administration, it is increasingly likely that the People’s National Movement board headed by former minister Christine Sahadeo will have to accept some fault. They were unable to convince the ministry to move quickly enough to avert the crisis that leaves us with few palatable options for cargo transport after the Galicia departs these shores after April 21.

The revelations will likely also underscore the need for systemic reform of state procurement processes. How can we implement the type of stringent oversight that would make it harder for public officials to accept kickbacks for lucrative contracts?

Integrity Commission filings, which are by all accounts onerous to fulfil, have not, in this case, prevented what looks like a possible case of white collar crime.

The procurement procedure itself must be subjected to the scrutiny of an authority empowered to ensure that laws are adhered to. And this requirement must embrace any agency that works on taxpayers’ behalf, not just the Port Authority.

The public is not baying for the jailing of white collar miscreants. At least not yet. The case must be presented and it must be demonstrated that the Attorney General’s opening salvo is not merely an attempt to distract from an embarrassing foul-up by the Government. We do not need an inquiry to tell us that somebody has likely pursued his/her own narrow interest over the public’s. We do need firm, swift and transparent action, to ensure that such a fiasco never sets sail again. Because once the ship has sailed, it is only the unfortunate citizens who deserve a reliable cargo service who are left crying long tears on the dock.