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Familiar TRIP on OCEAN Flower deal

Published: 
Sunday, August 13, 2017

This week saw yet another controversy in respect of the procurement of a ferry to service the sea bridge, fast on the heels of the one concerning the lease by the People’s Partnership of the Super Fast Galicia cargo ferry, but this time under the People National Movement’s watch.

The board of the Port Authority (PATT) leased two vessels, the cargo ferry Cabo Star and the passenger ferry Ocean Flower II, from a little known Canadian company Bridgeman’s Services Group LP (BSG), at an exorbitant price.

It turns out BSG was formed just after the 2015 elections, has no demonstrated experience in the ferry business and its principals were hard to find until a few of them only showed up after the cancellation of the Ocean Flower II contract last week. Sounds familiar?

The Cabo Star arrived on time and has been servicing the sea bridge, albeit at huge cost to the taxpayers, but the Ocean Flower II failed to meet its arrival date and operating start up deadline, which caused PATT to terminate the lease.

Suspicions and rumours abound because of the secrecy surrounding the procurement process employed by PATT. It is supposed, through its Tenders Committee—which is required to have as one of its members, a member of the Central Tenders Board—to use a fair transparent tendering process, with technical evaluations, in order to get best value for money.

Both the line Minister and the PATT chairman have failed to give any specifics as to the procurement process and their answers to queries about the suitability of the BSG and how it was selected have been vague and unsatisfactory, as have been their responses about the cost to taxpayers incurred before termination.

So once again the State is unable to provide for the efficient and convenient ferrying of passengers across the sea bridge, which is one of its core functions. Both sides of the sea bridge suffer.

The procurement controversy brought about the usual political posturing. The former PP line minister called for probes by the Integrity Commission and by a Commission of Enquiry into the process and the former PP prime minister went so far as to call for a police investigation. This from the same members of a government that entered into the Super Fast Galicia lease and were responsible for, just to mention a few, the section 34, Prisongate, Weedgate, Life Sport and Point Fortin Highways scandals.

The by now regular cycle of political musical chairs, dubious procurement, stratospheric prices, botched delivery, unjust enrichment, public revelations, public relations spin and then political finger pointing—all premised it seems on short memories made shorter by tribalism—is tiresome, because no one is ever held accountable and all the while, average hard working law-abiding citizens have to deal with the horror of daily life in our decaying society.

Look at this past week: murders, brazen choppings, drownings, death by car accidents, slow responses by emergency services, economic gloom, all things that affect the average man, but not the unjustly enriched who can buy a measure of security that others cannot afford.

Until, instead of improperly motivated political clamouring for enquiries, there is actual investigation, prosecution, conviction and sentencing—this applies to both sides—there will be no real resonance to the wrongdoing, merely distaste for the system.

This is what the modern politicians and their cohorts rely upon as they play their game of musical chairs and look for their turn at the Treasury trough. It is also what permits them, put out of office, to take the moral high ground and call for the heads of office holders, which in turn backfires because of the public distaste for the messenger. And so everything falls down, not because of our people, but ultimately because of the character deficits in those who purport to lead. And again this applies to both sides.

And the thing is there are sufficient systems and processes in place which, if used as intended, will bring about the desired results economically and efficiently for the public good. It can only be that those given the duty and responsibility to implement are not up to the task, whether through incompetence, or corruption, or sheer unsuitability.

Of course that is because selection for office by governments is not based on merit but on perceived allegiance, which of course means that those with merit and who are independent in their thinking (regardless of political views) don’t apply or if they do are rejected. And those in office who are competent too often sadly permit political allegiance or dictation to affect them in the proper discharge of their functions.

Using the sea bridge as an example, the way forward is clear. Use an open transparent procurement process as intended and lease or buy a passenger ferry with best value for money. At the same time, get restitution from the perpetrators who have already used the sea bridge to enrich themselves. But under the prevailing model of governance, do any of us really believe this is likely to happen?