China-T&T agreement to make T&T a ship-servicing stop

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the government is working closely with the government of China to build and operate a ship-servicing facility in this country.

The plan is part of an initiative to diversify the economy away from oil and gas.

Dr Rowley made the announcement at a ceremony to sign a contract for a new central block of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's Monday morning.

The new block will cater for 540 beds, more than 100 above what the old block held.

It will be built by the Shanghai Construction Group of China.

The prime minister said the contract comes at a time when the country is undergoing financial hardship but he says it must be recognised as a priority.

On that note, Dr Rowley said that the economic diversification efforts must continue as he turned his focus to the idea of building a ship-servicing facility.

He said the government has been encouraging investors to build the facility to cater for marine traffic that passes close to Trinidad and Tobago, many of which use the Panama Canal.

"We are best with the geographical location that makes such offerings acceptable and competitive," Dr Rowley said.

The prime minister told the ceremony that the government's conversation with the Chinese government involves equity partnership.

"While we are happy to have Chinese contractors come and build we have gone beyond that. We would want such building done in equity so that they will remain to ensure the success of the project by holding equity," Dr Rowley added.

He said that he was told by Chinese President Xi Jinping that the idea is acceptable as long as the project is economically sound.

According to the prime minister, the Chinese offered 25 percent equity participation but the T&T government felt it was a little low and asked for higher risk.

He said the Chinese have agreed.

"We are dreaming that we can awaken to the report that we could progress in this way for economic diversification of T&T," Dr Rowley said. 

He said the discussions are still on to change a memorandum of understanding into a business development. 

The facility is likely to be built in La Brea.

With regard to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, the 400-bed central block was damaged in a 6.9 earthquake in August last year.

Dr Rowley said that the facility had been pronounced engineeringly unsafe since 2009.

"This project is one of great significance particularly coming at this time because a nation's health is its wealth," he said.

"It matters not what other priorities a nation might set. If some health problem arises and ill health breaks out across the country, whether measles or something worse, the population will have to respond to it by giving it priority number one," Dr Rowley added.

He said the government approached the marketplace for build and finance proposals and the Shanghai Construction Group provided best in terms of value for money.

The project is supposed to be completed in 24-30 months.

- Sampson Nanton

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