DEVANT MAHARAJ ASKS PRESIDENT TO INTERVENE IN FERRY FIASCO
President Anthony Carmona can, by law, make an intervention into the ongoing fiasco surrounding the procurement process used by the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) for the inter-island ferry service. In fact, the Port Authority Act gives him the power to do so.
This is the position of former transport minister Devant Maharaj, who wrote to Carmona on Friday requesting the President’s immediate intervention in what he called an “unlawful and unqualified investigation” into PATT’s procurement of the Ocean Flower 2 and the Cabo Star.
In the letter, which was obtained by the Sunday Guardian, Maharaj requested that Carmona intervene to instruct the Port Authority to allow only the Integrity Commission or any other lawful authority to conduct any investigation into the selection of the Bridgemans Services Group LP vessels for the sea bridge. This action, he said, would be unprecedented on the part of the Office of the President and demands a display of presidential courage and fortitude.
Maharaj’s letter was penned following the announcement last week by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that businessman Christian Mouttet would be the sole investigator into the “circumstances surrounding the procurement of the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2 and the entering into the charter party agreement for these vessels.”
Mouttet’s appointment followed PATT’s decision to terminate the Ocean Flower 2 contract after the supplier failed to deliver the vessel by the date stipulated in the contract, July 17, and an inspection damning report by PATT chief engineer Brendon Powder.
The Ocean Flower was to service the inter-island route between Port-of-Spain and Scarborough due to a series of maintenance problems with the current passenger ferry vessels, the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express, but Powder ruled it was unsuitable to do so due to a number of mechanical issues.
Rowley’s decision was met with a measure of confusion and questions on the choice of Mouttet, whose qualifications for and experience in investigating such matters remain unclear.
The Integrity Commission and PATT are also conducting investigations into the matter, but the PATT has already indicated its initial findings have revealed the process in acquiring the vessels was compromised.
Maharaj, in his letter to Carmona, pointed out that the act was established and constituted in the name of the President of the Republic of T&T. Under the provisions of Section 12 of the Port Authority Act, chapter 51:01, the President may, from time to time, give the authority directions of a special or general character on the policy to be followed in the exercise of powers conferred and the duties imposed by the authority in matters that appear to the president to affect the interest of the public.
Maharaj said it was “unambiguous” that the issues surrounding the procurement methodology employed by PATT regarding the vessels were issues which affect the public interests.
“In particular, the people of Tobago who have been hardest hit economically. The taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago have a material interest in the procurement process, which will burden the treasury with an annual cost of over TT$100 million,” Maharaj wrote.
“The uncontested reports of the sea worthiness of both of these vessels are of critical importance to the health and safety of citizens who are potential users who will utilise the services of the inter-island ferry.”
Maharaj said Section 15(1) of the act gives the Office of the President authority and power to intervene and not to be fettered by the interference of Cabinet or the line minister.
“I request your intervention given the issues surrounding the procurement of the services of Bridgemans Services LP vessels to provide inter-island ferry services and the subsequent investigations of same by persons who are not lawfully authorised or qualified so to do, and as such these persons may seriously comprise and/or contaminate the lawful investigation by the Integrity Commission.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, Maharaj said his main concern was that the evidence could be tainted, even innocently, and pervert the course of justice.
“The right way, as I suggested, is to use persons duly authorised by law and independent bodies of statute.”
Maharaj said his own experience with the Integrity Commission had proved the commission to be thorough in their investigations.
“It is more importantly the body which by law should be able to do this. What are they collecting salaries for? You cannot say you don’t trust them and you are paying them a salary,” Maharaj said.
“It should be that anyone who has the lawful authority to investigate should do so, but it cannot be people I’m just liming with down the road. Mr Moutett is doing this for free but we all know nothing in this country is free.”
PORT AUTHORITY ACT
PORT AUTHORITY ACT CHAPTER 51:01 Section 15. (1), states:
“The President may from time to time give the authority directions of a special or general character on the policy to be followed in the exercise of the powers conferred and the duties imposed on the authority by or under this act in relation to matters that appear to the President to affect the public interests. 2) The authority shall, as soon as practicable, give effect to all directions issued pursuant to subsection (1).”