Former Transport Minister Writes Integrity Commission on Procurement Process of the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2
Former transport minister Devant Maharaj is calling on the Integrity Commission to investigate the procurement process by the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) for the inter-island ferry services between Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking to the Express, Maharaj said the entire procurement process of the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2 is “shrouded in secrecy and mystery, and the Port Authority has failed in providing the population with reasonably plausible explanations. Given the fact that this contract is over $100 million for a year, the commission must see the national importance of it”.
In a letter to the commission’s chairman, Justice Zainool Hosein, Maharaj said after having reviewed the information surrounding the provision of the ferry services for both the cargo and passenger vessels (the Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2), the commission must now use its investigative powers regarding the acquisition of the vessels.
Maharaj is claiming there were unsolicited proposals made by Bridgeman Services LP to the Port Authority regarding the lease of the vessels for the inter-ferry service, and questioned why the procurement guidelines of the Central Tenders Board were not followed as was done with the Super-Fast Galicia.
The Cabo Star and the Ocean Flower 2 were both chartered by Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP.
“June 26, four days before the PATT announced it had contracted the services of Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP, Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP purchased the Ocean Flower 2 from its previous owner, DAE Express Shipping Company Ltd. Essentially this meant to any reasonable person that Bridgeman sent an unsolicited proposal to the PATT to consider without having a vessel in its fleet.
“June 30, Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and Port Authority chairman Alison Lewis, at a press conference at the Ministry of Works on Richmond Street, stated that Government has given the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) approval to lease two vessels, Cabo Star, and the passenger boat, Ocean Flower, to service the sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago. The contract was awarded by the PATT via an unsolicited proposal from Bridgeman Services LP. Why did the PATT not adhere to the procurement guidelines of the Central Tenders Board as was done with the Super-Fast Galicia?” the letter stated.
He said the Ocean Flower 2 was secured without a local team inspecting the vessel and that the line minister, in a television interview, indicated that as it was lease arrangement and not purchase, an inspection was not required.
Maharaj said this was contradictory, as “e-mails between PATT CEO Charmaine Lewis and Elias Bezas of Terajet requesting inspection or survey for a similar lease arrangement”.
Terajet operator Seajet was another organisation seeking to lease its ferry services to the country.
Maharaj also questioned why the Government would lease a service from a company which has no experience.
He said: “Bridgeman Services LP has no experience in ferry services, but mainly food catering and off-shore accommodations. TV6 News contacted Tanel Hinno, technical manager of Bridgemans Services Group at their other office in Estonia, who admitted they were just getting their feet wet in the ferry business. ‘We are now getting into the ferry service,’ he said. ‘In fact, we have now leased two vessels to Trinidad and Tobago. And we are now trying to do business in Europe.’
“Why would PATT contract the services of a company without any ferry experience to operate the Tobago sea bridge? This raises the further issues as to what were the factors and consideration taken into account when the PATT evaluated the competing bids.”
In the letter, Maharaj said Bridgeman Services LP has not conformed to Canadian federal laws by listing their directors and shareholders, as is required, and that neither Bridgeman Services LP nor Bridgeman Trinidad Services is registered as a company in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Investigations about the Canadian offices of Bridgeman Services located on Melville and Burrard Street, respectively, have shown that these offices are defunct and never occupied by Bridgeman Services LP.
“How can the PATT award a multi-million-dollar contract to a firm which is not properly registered and does not have a proper office? Where exactly does Bridgeman Services [operate] from?” the letter stated.
Were the procurement practices of PATT adhered to?
Maharaj further stated the Port Authority has not disclosed whether or not Bridgeman Services has registered with the Board of Inland Revenue, registered for value added tax (VAT) as the contract is worth over $100 million, registered workers for national insurance or health surcharge, if it has received a tax and VAT clearance certificated from the Board of Inland Revenue, and whether the company adhered to the country’s anti-money laundering requirements.
“It is well known that local companies that bid for business must provide compliance with the above before they are even considered for contractual services from the State sectors. If the evidence is that Bridgeman Services was given the contract without satisfying these requirements, that leads to the inescapable conclusion that someone in high authority with decision-making power facilitated the circumvention of rules which were designed to ensure compliance and protection of the public purse,” the letter said.
Cost to lease the vessels
Speaking on the issue of the costs of leasing both vessels, Maharaj said 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 Trinidad and Tobago 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 $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 Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago 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,” he stated.
Maharaj is also questioning why Bridgeman Trinidad Services LP has not issued its own news releases, “but rely instead on the PATT to act as its public relations firm”. Group files Freedom of Information request The letter stated civil society organisation Fixin’ T&T, on July 31, filed a Freedom of Information request to the Port Authority, enquiring about the procurement process of the Ocean Flower 2.
The request was made for: copy of the lease agreement for the Ocean Flower (2) and MV Cabo Star. A copy of the Dun & Bradstreet report on Bridgemans Services Group. A copy of the “third party” inspection report on the Ocean Flower (2) and the MV Cabo Star. The names of all owners and directors of Bridgemans Services Group, and of all owners and directors of Bridgemans Trinidad LP.
A list of references provided to and contacted by the PATT re Bridgemans Services Group, and contact information for said references. Evidence of Bridgemans Services Group’s track record in the provision of ferry services. And the name of the person, company or entity contracted to provide maintenance service on vessels servicing the T&T sea bridge.
Prime Minister silent
Maharaj said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s silence over the entire issue was deafening.
He said the Prime Minister quickly addressed the previous issues of his Cabinet members regarding Sport Minister Darryl Smith and the Tobago expenditure, the issue with Shamfa Cudjoe and the high telephone bill and the issue relating to the firing of Marlene McDonald.
However, he questioned why the Prime Minister was now silent over the sea bridge issue.
“The Prime Minister’s silence on this matter is deafening. Why is the Prime Minister silent on this? Is there a PNM financier behind this?”