FIVE MONTHS LATER,
JAZZ FESTIVAL PERFORMERS STILL AWAITING PAYMENT
As the second Inter-Island Ferry, the “Ocean Flower 2” is expected to arrive in the country today, former minister of transport, Devant Maharaj, is calling on the Integrity Commission of T&T to commence a Commission of Enquiry into the procurement process by the Port Authority of T&T (PATT).
On July 19 at midnight, the first vessel leased by the T&T Government to service the Inter-Island Ferry Service arrived in Port-of-Spain. Both, the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2 were leased from Bridgemans Services Group of Vancouver, Canada, at a daily cost of US$22,500 (around TT$157,500) and US$26,500 (TT$185,500) respectively.
They were brought in to fill the transportation gap created when the Super Fast Galicia left these shores in April after a contractual fallout with PATT.
The Cabo Star will cost the Government TT$4,725,000 per month and the Ocean Flower 2 TT$5,565,000.
In a nine-page document dated August 4 which was sent to the Integrity Commission’s chairman, Justice Zainool Hosein. Maharaj said that upon analysis of information surrounding the provision of ferry services for both cargo and passengers between T&T he is of the firm belief that “this matter warrants the attention of the commission and further warrants the invocation of the investigative function of the Commission.”
“The factual matrix surrounding the procurement of the services of Bridgeman Services have been in the public domain since the beginning of July and has raised a number of questions that the PATT has failed or refused to adequately address,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj alleged in the letter, that outlines a series of critical issues that the Ocean Flower 2 was secured without a local team inspecting the vessel. He mentioned that in a television interview Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan indicated that as it was lease arrangement and not purchase an inspection was not required.
He added that Sinanan’s statement contradicts a series of emails between PATT CEO Charmaine Lewis and Elias Bezas of Terajet requesting inspection or survey for a similar lease arrangement.
“This is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs. The fact that one service provider was asked to subject itself to inspection while the other was not creates the unmistakable impression that favourable treatment was given to Bridgeman while the same was not offered to others. There can be no question that such conduct constitutes an egregious breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act and constitutes a damning piece of evidence which creates a dark cloud over this entire transaction. This proposition is further supported that the Super Fast Galicia was also required to be examined before by the PATT,” Maharaj said.
He also disclosed that he conducted extensive online research and have utilised several personal contacts in Canada in an effort to discover the general business of Bridgeman Services LP in particular to discover if they have any experience in Shipping or Ferry Services in any part of the world. Maharaj said that despite his efforts he has not been able to find any facts which support Bridgeman Services LP as a company with any experience in the field.
“It appears beyond contraction that Bridgeman Services LP and Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP have not registered any particulars of Directors or Shareholders. This it would seem is a fairly sophisticated effort to hide from the public glare the true owners of both companies. That begs the question as to why someone would go to such lengths to hide the true ownership of the company if the company is a legitimate one and the transaction is a legitimate one,” Maharaj said.
According to Maharaj, The Ocean Flower 2 was sold for US$5.5 million with the transaction being completed in late June 2017 by James Han Company. The contract with T&T for only one year for the Ocean Flower 2 is over US$8 million.
“At the current rate of US$1 to TT$6.7, US$22,000 is equal to TT$148,473. If you are paying $22,000 per day for a service, you will end up paying US$8,030,000 per year or TT$54,192,864. This is what we have been told the PATT is paying for use of the Cabo Star for transportation of cargo, including drivers, between Tobago and Trinidad. Over $54 million per year! Therefore for both vessels the costs to the taxpayers is over a $100 million per year. Awarded without proper procurement process. The Super Fast Galicia was only $34 million per year,” Maharaj said.
“The Ocean Flower 2 was laid up since August 2016. Its voyage from Pusan, South Korea to T&T appears to be plagued with numerous mechanical problems and delays. Originally scheduled to arrive in Trinidad on July 17 at the time of writing this complaint (August 4) the Ocean Flower 2 has not yet arrived,” he added.
Maharaj said that the many issues in the public domain have generated many questions surrounding the procurement of Bridgeman Services LP as the ferry service provider of choice by the PATT.
“Who is Bridgeman Services LP / Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP? How can a company with no experience and not lawfully registered be contracted by the PATT. When was the contract signed? What was the due diligence done on Bridgeman Services LP? Is Bridgeman Services compliant with the Board of Inland Revenue, National Insurance, Financial Intelligence Unit, etc given that the PATT has paid and will be paying large amounts of cash to this entity on a regular basis,” Maharaj said.
He added that he hoped that the Commission treats with his complaint “with urgency.”
In a statement issued by Bridgeman last month gave the numerous fuelling stops as the main reason for the Ocean Flower 2’s delay to reach T&T.
According to BSG, the process of sourcing a vessel that is mechanically sound and ideally suited for reliable high-speed passenger service was extremely challenging given the high demand for such vessels in the ferry trade.
“Once MV Ocean Flower 2 had been inspected and deemed suitable it began a 9,000 nautical-mile transoceanic voyage, originating in Pusan, Korea, to its current position in North American waters,” BSG said in a release.
“Owing to the inherent short-range capabilities of ferry vessels, MV Ocean Flower 2 required numerous refuelling stops. The vessel also had to contend with numerous foreign ports, customs clearances and severe weather conditions that added considerable time to the voyage,” it added.
Recently, there were reports in the media (not Guardian Media Limited) speculating BSG’s experience and capabilities to meet the specific needs of the MOWT, the people and commercial interests of the country.
However, BSG responded saying that “this speculation, is, in some cases misleading or erroneous.”
It further explained that Bridgemans Trinidad LP (BT) and Bridgemans Services Group LP (BSG) are privately owned Canadian Partnerships consisting of Canadian and US resident shareholders “none of which have any Trinidad connections.
“Holding assets in separate companies is common practice in the shipping world. BSG will honour the terms of the service agreement with the MOWT to provide safe and reliable transportation of people and goods between the two islands,” the company added.
In order to meet the precise needs of the contract with T&T, BSG’s corporate organisation conducted a global search that resulted in the acquisition of two vessels that have undergone third-party inspection and are ideally suited to providing reliable daily passenger and cargo ferry service.
“The acquisition process was particularly challenging given the limited availability of appropriate and mechanically sound vessels in the market. In addition to sourcing the vessels, the company has gone to great lengths and expended considerable funds to expeditiously reposition the two vessels, the MV Ocean Flower 2 and the MV Cabo Star, to serve the urgent needs of the MOWT and the people of T&T,” BSG said.
BSG has committed to adhering to its trademark policy of supporting communities in which it operates through the hiring of local personnel and procuring supplies from local merchants, “BSG will also adhere to the principles and best practises of environmental sustainability in all aspects of its operations and will endeavour to foster respectful and cooperative relationships with community members on both islands.”
The FOIA asks the questions:
1. A copy of the lease agreement for the Ocean Flower (2).
2. A copy of the lease agreement for the MV Cabo Star.
3. A copy of the Dun & Bradstreet report on Bridgemans Services Group.
4. A copy of the “third party” inspection report on the Ocean Flower (2) and the MV Cabo Star.
5. Names of all owners and directors of Bridgemans Services Group.
6. Names of all owners and directors of Bridgemans Trinidad LP.
7. A list of references provided to and contacted by the PATT re Bridgemans Services Group.
8. Contact information for said references.
9. Evidence of Bridgemans Services Group’s track record in the provision of ferry services.
10. The name of the person, company or entity contracted to provide maintenance service on vessels servicing the T&T sea bridge.