More White Elephants: The Toco Port, Is it really a “Legacy Project” or a Legacy debt?

The Dr Keith Rowley led Government proposed another billion dollar project in 2019 that we haven’t heard anything about for three years now, what his Government called a “Legacy Project” in building the road from Valencia to Toco and building the Toco port. 

First, we must ask what is a Legacy project in the context used by the Government. One of the main points that constitute this legacy project, and the reason to build the port, is that the project must bring economic benefits for future generations. Will this take place once this port is built? Will it be sustainable? These are just some of the pertinent questions that must be asked before we embark on yet another expense to the taxpayers and create possibly another white elephant.

The project must bring economic benefits for future generations. Will this take place once this port is built? Will it be sustainable?

This Project was proposed in 2019 but to date we haven’t heard anything further from the Minister of Works and Transport, as he stated back then that the approvals was being sort from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) however, anytime we embark on these type of projects, we will we be spending more and more money to build it, as is the normal story every time we embark on these massive grandiose projects?

Will there be cost overruns and delays as we have seen so many times before like the Tarouba multi-purpose stadium, to name one off the top of my head.

Caroni Gantry supposed to be “fully operational” in 2016, still unopened

Another white elephant, the Caroni Gantry, fourteen years after the official start of the Liquid Fuels Pipeline project, the facility located at Frederick Settlement, Caroni, has never been completed and mouthballed after shoddy workmanship by contractors hired by the National Gas Company remains dormant to this day.

No answers were ever given by the PNM Government or National Gas Company (NGC) why this facility was never commissioned and everyone seems to forget about the billions spent here. 

The facility was due to become “fully operational” in 2016, and while the company and the Government remains silent on the cost of the facility to date, official figures indicate that at that time the project was never completed and was supposed to cost just under $800m but actually cost taxpayers closer to $1.2 b before being abandoned and left to rot in Caroni opposite the cremation site. A fitting end to a loss of billions under the PNM Government to build a fuel gantry so close to a crematorium. 

The Government-funded project was initiated in December 2007 under the then People’s National Movement and was a combined effort involving Petrotrin, NGC and the National Petroleum Marketing Company-NPMC trinidad. In August, 2009, the project was reported to be 68 per cent complete. The forecast then was for completion in September/October 2010 at an estimated cost of $739 million.

So these projects are just to give the friends, family and financiers of the ruling party money in their pockets at the cost of the taxpayers

In my opinion, this new plan for the Toco port is another hair brained scheme that the taxpayers will be bearing the cost of for possibly another 50 years, as it’s not sustainable. 

US$100m (TT$680m) wasted on Port Galeota

Does no-one remember that under previous incarnations of this Government we spent over US$100 million on another port, the Port Galeota? Anyone know if this port even exists and if it’s profitable? This is actually a five-berth port at Guayaguyare that we spent over a billion Trinidad and Tobago dollars on that was supposed to be the “logistics hub” for the country and bring economic prosperity to the residents of Guayaguyare. What has it brought to the residents there? What has it done for the economy there? It’s hardly used today.

It was approved by the PNM administration before 2010, and the writing was on the wall even back then. The preliminary studies showed that there would be excessive “silting” from the  Orinoco River, and suggested that a port in this region would not have much use by general maritime traffic. Oil companies involved in exploration and offshore production on the South coast and Southeast coast of Trinidad were targeted to use Port Galeota. 

It was touted that this port would provide much needed infrastructure that will attract foreign direct investment to the upstream and downstream industries. The National Gas Company in 2016, also spoke highly of a phase 2 of this project and was to spend another US$140 million, or another TT$1.3 billion, after the Port was to become operational in 2019.

Also, It was said the port “will allow for expanded exploration and production of oil and gas in Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana……” Really? Guyana? Have we made any inroads in Guyana to support their oil boom?

With the shutting down of our refinery we ourselves must now import our fuel for local consumption. We are not serious! 

After all this talk and bragging and approximately TT $1.3 billion spent on a port, we heard nothing further since 2018, whether it is operational or not. Are the large oil companies using the facilities offshore and does the general public know anything really about Port Galeota? Is it even making money and has it impacted the residents in the area positively? Again, everything is hidden under a vault of secrecy and the taxpayers are always the last to know what our hard earned money is being spent on. 

Let me just say, before we continue down the same road and enter into another project where we spend billions of our much needed money, we need to look at our current aging infrastructure.

We need to look at our existing roads, bridges, our aging WASA pipelines and we need to repair our basic infrastructure in Tobago first. Get the economy restarted properly and open back our borders fully and get the sea bridge operating at full capacity first. Get the air bridge operational without massive delays. The inefficient existing ferry service that Tobago has to endure and the many fiascos that have been meted out to the sister isle at a cost to taxpayers of approximately TT$150 million a year is intolerable, to say the least. 

Let’s get this one thing right first, the economic crisis under the pandemic, before we tackle yet another project that will most likely cause massive expenditures for future generations. Let’s be honest, when have we ever had a project of this nature completed without massive cost overruns or shoddy workmanship? So before we drive one pile into the waters off Toco, let the Government show us the sustainability of this project, the feasibility studies that they have done and the full cost to the ecosystem and the impact to wildlife as well.

If a Toco to Tobago sea bridge is such a great idea and a “legacy project“ that will generate income and prosperity for Toco and Tobago as proclaimed by our Government, let’s see all the figures in black and white.

I’m sure if it’s such a great project, private investors will be clamoring at a chance to invest with our Government and make it a reality. Or will they say “No Way!” This project will never turn a profit, never be used fully and further emphasize that the rough seas in that part of Trinidad will surely bring cost overruns, injury to life and limb, and another drain on our taxpayers for generations to come?

What the government should be focusing on now is helping people through the economic crisis and vaccinating the public. People need the Government to distribute grants to assist households so they can feed their families and People need counseling to cope with these stresses that they face from extended periods of these curfews now. No further extension of the SOE.

Let’s speak up this time and do not let yet another incarnation of the PNM Government use hundreds of millions of our public funds to increase our country’s debt. Will we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked into another billion dollar project on a port that we really do not have use for?

Only time will tell. 

– Neil Gosine

Vol. 1, Issue 3