By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 20, 2017
I had promised that I would not involve myself with the Ferry Imbroglio (an extremely confused, complex and embarrassing situation, full of trouble and problems) if only because the situation was/is so uncalled for and revealed such extraordinary incompetence on government’s part. The longer the problem persists, the more the government’s incompetence and the uselessness of its bureaucrats displays itself. I had hoped the government would remedy this situation by letting sunlight shine into the darkness.
There is no complexity about this matter. A ferry is contracted to take people back and forth to Tobago. Such movement of goods and people constitute Tobago’s lifeline to Trinidad and Trinidad’s connection to her sister isle. The authorities waited until the contract was about to expire before they attempted to renew it.
Two weeks before the contract ended, the Prime Minister (PM) pointed his finger at what he thought might have been “scampishess” in terms of the contract and the contractors’ behavior. Nothing was done to ensure that another ferry was put in place to pick up the slack. He declared that the situation should be investigated. His government employed unusable tugs to fill in the gap. The disaster grew.
The PM appointed Allison Lewis to chair the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago. Part of her responsibility involved getting two ferries to ply the Tobago-Trinidad route. The newly constituted body rents a new ferry. No inspection was done on the ferries before the new contract was given out. Brendon Powder, chief engineer, who led a sea trial and inspection of Ocean Flower II, reported that “it was unsuitable and had technical issues” (Express, August 16). Rather than welcome the press’s initiative in getting the information to the public, Lewis’s board initiates an inquiry into why the report was leaked to the press. Was he suspended from his post for being forthright?
Such bureaucrats believe that democracy functions better when dark people are kept permanently in the dark. Sometimes darkness is invoked to prevent them from seeing the light which is always the prerequisite of corrupt governments. They seek to hoodwink them. Initially hoodwink meant “to cover the eyes of someone, such as a prisoner, with a hood or blindfold” so that they could not see, understand or anticipate their fate.
The PM has issued two apologies for the inconvenience this embarrassing situation caused all parties involved. He called for a meeting of the business stakeholders (not the people) and then appoints someone to investigate “the circumstances surrounding the procurement of the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower II and the entering into charter party agreement for these vessels.” He asked Christian Mouttet to investigate the matter and report to him in 30 days.
Questions: Does Mouttet have subpoena powers to compel people to appear before him? Does he have the necessary expertise to do a thorough investigation? Does he need a forensic specialist to assist him in performing his duties?
Mouttet is a white, Syrian businessman. The PM says he is “a seasoned and successful businessman with in excess of two decades of high-level experience in the business world.” He is also a very wealthy man and owns “several distribution companies which utilize the ferry service” (Guardian, August 16). Does he have an attachment to the one percenters.
Further questions: Why wasn’t someone from the unions or a Tobagonian added to this committee? Why does the interest of the business elite always take precedence over the interest of-or at least balanced with-that of the working people?
Mouttet says he will be fair. Why do we have to take his word for it? Why didn’t the PM build into the investigative team elements that would have ensured fairness and impartiality? Why wasn’t someone with forensic experience added to the team? The Americans say “Trust but verify”.
It is difficult for an autocratic government to remember that the site of power should not always reside in the hands of bureaucrats and business people. Wesley Gibbings reminds us that “since 1889 when the island became a ward of Trinidad, the most visible agitators for altering the terms of reference between the two islands have been leading activists in Tobago” (Trinidad Guardian, August 16).
Any investigative report about this fiasco should be conducted by people who respect the community and who the community respects. Mouttet may have the confidence and respect of the business world as Gary Aboud, head of DOMA, suggests (Express, August 16). It would have been nice if someone like Reginald Dumas, respected by Trinbagonians, was added to such an investigative team.
It appears that Lewis has been elevated to the center of this drama while Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Works, has eased his way out of what might be a criminal matter. His closeness to the PM should not hide him from the public scrutiny, nor should this investigation be seen as a case in which the PM selects someone to conduct an inquiry whose outcome he can control or influence.
Mouttet’s report must be made public. Citizens have a right to know his findings. Government and bureaucrats should stop taking poor people’s concerns for granted.