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Who stands to benefit?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Before gaining fame as a Roman statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC) began his career as a lawyer.

His first major case was the defence of a man accused of patricide, the penalty of which was death and the forfeiture of property.

Throughout the trial, Cicero repeatedly asked “cui bono,” translated as “to whom is it a benefit,” which revealed that other people profited from the death of the client’s father, having purchased part of the confiscated inheritance.

It’s a simple question that can lead to incredible revelations, one that should precede any investigation into a government’s maleficence, especially when it involves the mishandling of state finances.

The MV Galleons Passage, the recently acquired ferry intended to service our country’s collapsed sea bridge, is steadily making its way towards Trinidad to undergo its final repairs and refit. At least that’s what acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert told the Parliament on June 20.

The story has since changed and the public was informed last Friday (July 6) that the vessel was still docked in Cuba, awaiting an inspection team from Trinidad to sign off on the work before it departs. This confusion is sounding eerily familiar.

Remember the Ocean Flower II? That buoyant bastion of “bawbawl” was also plagued with a litany of mechanical problems. And it was only after it arrived in our waters that it was deemed unfit for use. So it’s left to be seen what destiny has in store for the Galleons Passage. By the way…speaking of the Ocean Flower…whatever became of the “Mouttet Report”?

My first column for 2018 was a tongue-in-cheek collection of “preon what we could expect over the course of the coming year. Number three on the list was the public fiasco of the Ocean Flower. I pessimistically stated that “…the truth surrounding this scandal will vanish into obscurity and no one will be held accountable.”

Well, it seems that I was right. It’s been almost ten months since the Mouttet Report was delivered to the Prime Minister and it has never been made public. Despite all the chaos that followed in its wake, the details pertaining to the acquisition of the Ocean Flower II remain largely a mystery.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. Ours is a country where it’s common practice for those in power to claim ignorance and plausible deniability when it comes to allegations of corruption.

But the question we should have asked and should be asking still, is in the spirit of “cui bono”—who stood to benefit from the leasing of the Ocean Flower II? And should we be concerned that a similar situation is at work with purchase of the Galleons Passage?

To the credit of some of our local journalists, they did scrutinise the weak link in the whole affair, ie, the Bridgemans Services Group, going so far as to visit their foreign-based offices. What they found was a company that didn’t seem to exist, the first real sign that things weren’t “floating” right. And how did things eventually turn out? Bridgemans Services disappeared, their ferry disappeared, and apparently, so did the Mouttet Report. So we never did find out who benefited from the arrangement. Now a new ferry lies just over the horizon…and along with its glaring mechanical problems is a possible red flag.

According to La Patilla (The Watermelon), a Spanish news website based out of Venezuela, the Galleons Passage was formerly known as the Doña Mercedes, which belonged to a Venezuelan shipping company.

Considering that our mutual governments are entangled in negotiations, it’s not far-fetched to wonder if that’s the reason why Nidco was able to purchase the ferry at half its estimated value. And if that be the case, is there to be a “quid pro quo” in return?

Regarding Cicero’s first case, his defence of “cui bono” won him an acquittal. And just as his client’s life was at stake, so too is the integrity of this PNM Government. They must be called upon to answer the same question. Because when we ask, “Who stands to benefit from the purchase of the Galleons Passage?” Chances are the answer isn’t the citizenry of T&T.

Ryan Hadeed


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