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Investigate purchase of Coast Guard vessels
Political activist Devant Maharaj has written to Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter calling for an investigation into T&T’s planned AU$100 million purchase of two new Coast Guard vessels from Austal.
Maharaj revealed the correspondence yesterday during a press conference at the law chambers of attorney and maritime law expert Nyree Alphonso in Port-of-Spain. He said the complaint, which was also forwarded to that country’s Opposition Leader and transparency institute, centres around the absence of proper procurement procedures for a contract signed by the T&T Government with the Australian shipbuilder.
The contract was signed in July when Austal representatives came to T&T following a visit by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and a Government delegation to its headquarters earlier this year. The proposed deal is to be financed through a loan arrangement with the T&T Government.
“The Australian Government supports ethical business practices and the prosecution of those who engage in illegal practices, your office has a responsibility not only to the people of Australia but also to that of T&T to ensure that this $100 million deal was conducted in conformity with international best procurement practices,” Maharaj wrote.
Porter has acknowledged receipt of the correspondence, which was sent, last Thursday, but has not responded substantively.
Maharaj said he first became concerned when he noticed that the deal was struck without the input of government technocrats or officials from the Coast Guard.
“I ask the question if the Australian PM had visited T&T and decided to buy $100 million in pan, without any sort of expert advice, would the Australian people and Parliament be as equally as accepting as we in Trinidad have been?” he asked.
Alphonso, who has been critical of Government’s handling of the procurement of vessels for the inter-island ferry service, also raised concerns about the deal with Austal. She noted that T&T had a relationship with the company dating back to 2009 when Government ordered six patrol vessels for the Coast Guard.
“Within months of the vessels arriving here, many of them were not operational or badly operational,” she said.
Alphonso claimed the vessels had design flaws which made them unsuitable for rough seas like those between Trinidad and Tobago.
She produced a report from the New South Wales Police Force which showed that it had experienced similar issues with the Austal patrol vessels in its fleet.
In addition with the suitability of the vessels, Alphonso noted that Austal does not have a large presence in the western hemisphere.
“We are buying two Cape class 58-foot vessels and I cannot find a single country in the world who have purchased one of those vessels. Isn’t that interesting?” Alphonso said.
Noting that Austal and fellow Australian manufacturer INCAT were the only producers of fast ferries in the world, Alphonso said Government should consider the latter as the T&T Spirit and Express and other leased ferries were all produced by the latter.
“Their aesthetics value tends to be greater than an INCAT vessel, but when you are looking for a vessel to give 15 to 20 years service, I don’t think aesthetics is what you are looking for,” Alphonso said.
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