Former Government Minister, Devant Maharaj, has written to the Integrity Commission, asking for an investigation into the hiring of the Ocean Flower 2 and the Cabo Star vessels.
The Cabo Star arrived in Trinidad on July 19 and the Ocean Flower 2 is on its way to this country to operate the sea bridge.
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 (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 Port Authority.
The Cabo Star will cost the Government TT$4,725,000 per month and the Ocean Flower 2 TT $5,565,000.
A nine-page letter, dated August 4, 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 Trinidad and Tobago, 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.
He added, “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 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, and therefore, no inspection was required.
He added that Sinanan’s statement contradicted a series of emails between PATT CEO, Charmaine Lewis, and Elias Bezas of Terajet, requesting inspection or survey for a similar lease arrangement.
Maharaj continued, “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.”
The former PP Minister also disclosed that he conducted extensive online research and have utilized 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.
He added, “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.”
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 is for only one year with the Ocean Flower 2, and it will cost over US$8 million.
Maharaj declared, “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.”
“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,.
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.
Maharaj asked, “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,”
He added that he hoped that the Commission treats with his complaint “with urgency.”
In response to the letter to the Integrity Commission, Sinanan described Maharaj as a “washed-up politician” who was trying to stay relevant.