I grew up hearing an anecdote that the late former member of parliament for Diego Martin West, Johnny O’Halloran, and a contingent went to Venezuela to negotiate the purchase of a boat, and the only member of the contingent who could translate Spanish into English was the cook.
So, the entire contingent relied on the cook to translate the details of this high-powered negotiation. It is a story about how ministers and high-powered officials operate outside of their areas of competence and squander our patrimony.
This memory was triggered by recent reports about the three moored coast guard vessels and why they have not been repaired. The minister of national security used Covid-19 as his get-out-of-jail card, suggesting travel restrictions were to blame. Meanwhile, the Dutch ambassador immediately advised that repair engineers have been in the country on rotation.
If the current administration has not ensured the operationalisation of a maintenance and repair programme for the coast guard since winning the general elections in 2015, what can be done now to solve the problem?
It is reasonable to expect that given our historically porous borders, ensuring our coast guard had the marine assets to operate would have been a high priority issue, resulting in an assessment of our naval assets and a plan put in place to keep them in good repair.
For three vessels to be down at the same time is an example of malfeasance. It is understandable that these vessels may require specialist services for their repair, but over five years, we should have been able to train technicians on the ground to keep at least one vessel in operation.
I wonder about the post-purchase arrangements that were made with regard to these vessels. Had this sale been conducted under proper procurement arrangements, citizens could have accessed the contract and understood where the breakdown in arrangements occurred.
Recently in parliament, Hon. Minister Stuart Young reminded the population that the United National Congress (UNC) acquired “six Damen vessels and the procurement of those vessels is now under international criminal investigation by the government of the Netherlands”.
While the government is right to pursue this investigation, our borders continue to be open to drugs, guns and all kinds of illegal trafficking because we cannot repair three coast guard vessels. What is the status of the other three Damen vessels?
What is the status of the highly sophisticated 360-degree radar system, which is touted to be able to scan the Gulf of Paria and identify the minutest of movements? I am told that our country is one of 10 with such a sophisticated system, but it was never made operational. I wonder why?
Administration after administration, the same mistakes are repeated. We find ways to sidestep proper procurement and believe that ministers and other high-powered officials can operate outside of their areas of competence in whatever domain their leaders see fit.
We continue to operate without appropriate strategic plans, so we end up with graveyards of abandoned police vehicles, buses, fire trucks and marine vessels. How well some of us remember the MV Tobago was sold for scrap and is now providing excellent service in the Mediterranean.
It is easy to blame previous administrations for negotiating bad contracts or other unacceptable arrangements, but after five years in office, those arguments ring hollow in my head. The time has come for us to have a strategic plan that pays attention to maintenance, repair and continuity. The less money we waste, the more will be available to invest in the development of our people and, therefore, secure our future.
The more often our politicians are caught telling shades of untruths, the greater the level of mistrust amongst the population. One day, the population will rise up and say enough is enough. Be warned!