|File: PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar visits a Children's hospital in Shanghai, China|
During her just concluded state visit to the People's Republic of China Persad-Bissessar announced that the Chinese had agreed to make one of two such vessels available to the Coast Guard in the shortest possible time. She also made it clear that this was no sudden decision and that discussion on the matter had been taking place since the official visit to Trinidad and Tobago in June 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jingping.
Buying the boat now is part of the strategic plan by the government to systematically deal with the crime problem and make the country better equipped to improve its national security.
The question that the critics are raising is this: why cancel the order for three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) made by the previous Manning PNM administration only to run off to China and buy a boat that opposition MP Colm Imbert said was the same vessel except for the name?
We need to do a reality check.
First of all the Prime Minister never said Trinidad and Tobago didn't need offshore patrol boats. The propaganda I have heard over and over since the announcement in China is that she has made a flip flop, first saying the country doesn't need such naval vessels and now going out and buying one from China.
Well, for the records, this is what the lady said on September 29th 2010: "There are several things that we had to consider. Do we need three OPVs? The country is not at war out in the seas; the country is at war on the ground, in our streets and in the towns within T&T." She also pointed out that maintenance costs would have been in excess of $500 million annually and concluded that the country cannot "sustain that at this time."
Simply put, she said we don't need those vessels now because we have to focus on the war on the ground. She did not say the country would not need patrol boats.
The cancellation led to an arbitration process, which the government won despite opposition claims that the government had lost and would have to pay the British shipbuilders, BAE, for breach of contract.
On June 15, 2012, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan issued a media release chastising Opposition MP Colm Imbert who was pushing the line that the PP government was quietly seeking $1.3B to pay BAE for cancelling the OPVs that would have cost $1.5B.
In denouncing Imbert's statement as “totally mischievous and completely false," the AG stated. “It is, quite frankly, a reckless statement which bears absolutely no resemblance to the truth." Imbert was making a false statement long before the process was completed and some media were only too willing to publish his lies.
In the end while the PNM insisted on telling the country a lie, the government won and it was BAE that had to pay T&T $1.3B.
On November 19, 2012 the Prime Minister made a statement in which she explained why her government cancelled the contract.
1. OPV 1 was already overdue by one year
2. OPV 2 was three months late.
3. There were major issues and deficiencies with the OPVs
4. Overall, there were serious obstacles to the proper execution and implementation of this project
Here are some other relevant facts:
- The acquisition of the Long Range Vessel from the Chinese is a part of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s (GORTT) overall national security plan, which includes fighting crime on the ground and at the country’s porous maritime borders
- There was never any question of not including the maritime borders of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the country’s national security strategy. It was necessary first to consolidate the inland security apparatus that included a police rapid Response Unit, A national security operations centre, the introduction of a highly visible and efficient Highway Patrol and the installation of closed circuit cameras at strategic locations throughout the country. These have been implemented and collectively are working to keep the nation secure
- The decision to acquire this vessel from China is part of the national security plan, which now focuses on the maritime boundaries. It was not made easily and in haste. Discussion on this began in Trinidad in 2013 with China’s President and Chinese officials during President Xi Jingping’s official visit to Trinidad
- The GORTT has made an assessment of similar vessels from a number of different countries and concluded that the Chinese vessel is best in terms of cost as suitability
- The vessel that China has promised to deliver as soon as possible is a highly sophisticated and efficient part of the Chinese defence system and operates in the sensitive and strategic South China Sea protecting China’s national and international interests
- The Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made a request to the Chinese authorities and China has gone out on a limb to assist in keeping with the excellent relationship between the two countries over the past 40 years and because China is desirous of continuing the excellent bilateral relations and friendship it enjoys with Trinidad and Tobago
Read the story (check the list):
PM exposes secret spy network; President on list of persons under illegal surveillance
By the time he left office the radar system was in place, there were six fast patrol boats, 14 interceptors and four attack helicopters but with all of this, there was no effective national security plan and crime kept getting worse. The OPVs were another part of his overall plan.
The new government used a different approach to confront crime and although the propaganda would tell you crime is the worst it has ever been, a reality check would show it is down by more than 30 per cent.
The barometer for making the assessment - the number of homicides - would also show that there has been a steady decrease since 2010 and the PNM administration still holds the record of more than 550 murders in one year. An analysis of crime statistics over the past 15 years would also show that serious crime rises significantly when the PNM is in office.