PAC to tackle helicopter saga

| 30/07/2009

(CNS): The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is set to address the ongoing fiasco regarding the police helicopter, which has already cost government more than $3 million with no sign of the aircraft. Discussing a report Auditor General Dan Duguay submitted in October 2008, the committee decided that they needed to hear from the people involved as to exactly what was going on. Duguay said he was dismayed that having made straight forward recommendations about the helicopter, they had still not been acted upon more than nine months later. 

Chaired by North Side Independent MLA Ezzard Miller, the committee asked Duguay a number of questions on Wednesday (29 July) about his report and findings as well as what he knew about the current situation. Duguay explained that in the report, which he had conducted as a result of a request by the governor, he had recommended that the government move to assess the cost of retro fitting the craft, or alternatively, and what he thought was more prudent, sell the helicopter as quickly as possible and start the process of assessing s the police air surveillance needs from scratch.

“I thought I had given clear options to follow but I am dismayed that nothing has been done,” Duguay told PAC. “When I finished the report in October of last year I was told the helicopter was ready to be brought here, but it’s still not here and I’m interested to find out why not.”

Moses Kirkconnell, the only opposition member on the committee, said that the $3 million spent on the helicopter was bad enough but his real concern was that even today no one seemed to have any idea where the helicopter actually is or what’s happening to it.

Miller said that he understood the helicopter is still being held in Louisiana and that government is paying a not insignificant storage fee to keep it there, something which Duguay concurred, noting that was the last he had heard too.

The PAC agreed, not without a hint of irony, that as it was unlikely that former commissioner Stuart Kernohan was going to come and answer to the PAC and they had better start with David Baines, the new RCIPS commissioner. It was also decided that Eric Bush from the portfolio and the Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks, who was deputy chief secretary at the time of the purchase and closely involved, would need to be called.

Duguay also recommended that a representative from the Civil Aviation Authority be called as well, as he noted that part of the problem with the whole project was that no one from the police had spoken with the CAA to discuss the rules regarding flight to the Sister Islands without flotation devices. He said that the CAA had said it was willing to discuss the rules regarding air operation and they were not necessarily set in stone. Duguay said the CAA may well be able to shed light on the absolute minimum requirements for using helicopter between all three islands.

Duguay noted that part of the whole problem was that the needs of government and the police had not been properly established before the purchase went ahead. “There was a mission creep when people heard we had got a helicopter and people wanted to add things” he said. Duguay explained that the government bought a police helicopter for drug interdiction but then wanted to turn it into a search and rescue helicopter, something that actually costs in the region of $20 million. “Cabinet was sold an idea but the equipment was not capable of it.” He noted that no one in the RCIPS really had the expertise to purchase a helicopter.

Miller noted the problem Cayman now faced was that the helicopter was largely obsolete. “If we don’t make a decision soon we might not be able to sell it,” he added. It was noted that the reason why the UK had sold the helicopter in the first place was because it would have been too expensive to retro fit the craft to meet the new CAA regulations there — ones which the committee believed would soon come to Cayman as well.

Dwayne Seymour, another committee member present, lamented the fact that this purchase seemed to be systematic of situations in government departments where the country keeps buying things that are not right, something he said the new government had to tackle.

(Photo top: an EC135T1 helicopter similar to that bought by the RCIPS)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    hurricane shelter………….

    where will the helicopter be secured when a hurricane comes …………………..

    their is no hangar for it, and it doesn’t have the range to fly out of the path of any impending storm……

    so i guess we now will need to spend another million to build a hangar…  or maybe just secure to the ground and shield it from the wind like the mcru behind some dump trucks !!!!!!

  2. Sir Henry Morgan says:

    Is fiasco the word of the day? I must have missed that memo.


  3. Interesting... says:

    Let’s here ozzie’s excuse for not tackling this one when he was PAC chair. When he was chair the PAC hadn’t met in over a year! But now the PAC meets monthly.

    I’d like to say thank you to Ezzard for being a stand up person and taking the issue of our backlog of audited financials and this phantom helicopter seriously!

    Unlike Ozzie, you show initiative and dedication that was sorely needed within the PAC.

    • Anonymous says:

      Everyone knows that Ossie was just a Robot with a dead battery. He could,nt act no matter how hard he tried.

      I note that Moses is now acting like he had nothing to do with the Helicopter issue as well. Funny what Politicians will do when the shoe is on the other foot. Stick to being a "PIP" Party in Power member Mose. Its good for your constituents.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who is Ossie?

        Let’s not worry about the babies that got thrown out with the bath water – Ossie nah saying nothing!

        UDP needs to get rid of Kurt, Alden & Arden now for wasting all this money and the Country will be a lot better off.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad that the UDP is getting to the bottom of this fiasco.

    Its unfortunate that CNS wasn’t at the Meeting they had on CUC (we may have actually got more details than CC reported), but hopefully now that meetings of the PAC are public that more of the press core, including CNS, will attend.

    CNS: At the moment we only have one reporter (Wendy) on Grand Cayman and it just isn’t physically possible for her to cover everything — though I think she does give the impression of being able to be in more than one place at a time. But yes, I know she is planning on covering as much of PAC as possible.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The helicopter story reeks of politicians sticking their nose in to things they knew nothing about in order to score petty political points.  Dan – please be brave and let the whole story out.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I worked extensively on this story at Net News.

    The helicopter was sold off because the CAA in the UK apparently upgraded their standards to require a three-axis autopilot for night operations – something that could not be retrofitted to this machine. This requirement did not exist in the Cayman Islands at the time the RCIPS bought the machine.

    Similarly, my understanding was that when the helicopter was purchased the CAA in the Cayman Islands was willing to waive to the flotation device requirement. The distance between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands only exceeds the maximum overwater flying time by 10 minutes and the EC135 is twin-engined.

    What Dan Duguay describes as ‘mission creep’ definitely took place, with everyone loading more tasks on the ASU. One add on that added considerably to the problems, and the costs, was the installation of a rescue winch – something not in the original ASU planning.

    However, from what I saw  there was also an element of shifting goal posts  when it came to operational requirements and some direct political interference – both designed to prevent the RCIPS getting their ‘eye in the sky’. Like other media outlets Net News was bombarded with misinformation about the whole project. I just hope that Dan Duguay can finally kill off some of the rumours and find out exactly what role the various parties involved had in the fiasco.

    What a lot of people seem to forget is that the money used to buy the helicopter did not all come from the Cayman Islands. The purchase was supported by the UK government with both direct funding and also an indirect contribution on the basis that the machine was sold at well below market price.  

    • da-wa-u-get says:

      I find the comment in the above response: both designed to prevent the RCIPS getting their ‘eye in the sky"  very intriguing, If it is in fact correct and not just a perception,  then we really have cause to worry about how high in the Government/Legislature the influence, of those that would prefer to keep prying eyes from certain occurrences/practices, reaches?


  7. Anonymous says:

    Oh thank god someone is looking into this fiasco!!!!  Now we know one of the reasons why gov’t is reporting being 75 million dollars in debt!!!

    And above and beyond this matter… someone needs to be held accountable for being allowed to purchase a helicopter but knows nothing about doing such a thing!!! ….In Cayman it seem like such a common problem in which we have people in positions making decisions that shouldn’t be!!!  God help our Country!!

  8. clearviewer says:

    Where Oh where have all our money gone, barefoot got this one right. we have not seen the end of this fiasco untill it is absolutely and genuinely obsolete when the goverment cant recoup anything from the purchase of this albatross that the PPM and Kernahan dropped on us.                  

    Mr Miller  do this country a favor dont delay it and as it is still costing us money, for what? a useless piece of garabage.

  9. Bob says:

    Talk, talk, talk. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be here in another nine months hearing the same old speeches, without any actions having been taken.

    The major underlying problem with this fiasco, is that no one with expertise is involved.

    The gov is buying an expensive helicopter the same way they would buy a truck. They need aviation experts involved not only in the buying process, but also to organise the actual operation of the helicopter. It will require trained mechanics, pilots, operations manuals will have to be written, approvals and certificate from the CAA will have to be obtain, etc.

  10. FLIR says:

    I don’t understand why the machine needs to be able to cover all three islands, yes they’re all part of the country, but how much demand is there for air support on the sister islands anyway? The coasts/waters could be covered with properly and permanently crewed boats.

    Why can’t the existing craft just be equipped to cover Grand Cayman (FLIR, NIte Sun, mapping etc..)? I know this may displace activity to the sister islands, but anything (drugs/guns) coming in there, will still have to be brought here at some point in the main

    Jeromes’ helicopter operates over water, so why couldn’t the machine we’ve already purchased? I beleive there is a ‘ten minute rule’ but that would cover almost out to international waters, and not only that, but surface craft would contribute to the ‘cover’ any way.

    Here’s a question for the PAC, I heard this from one certain K9 officer in the cops here, let’s call him ‘Gem’ for the sake of argument, why can’t suitably placed and powered radar stations be placed on the sister islands to offer the same level of advanced warning as air support could? The sister islands are small, so a suitably highly erected radar station would offer total cover if used in tandem with boats for interception. If memory serves correctly, two or three stations couls cover the entire sister islands area…

    It seems as said above, the major players here have a ‘Miami Vice’ mentality when it comes to this asset.

  11. Anonymous says:

    There are numerous white elephants that the previous Governments has wasted money on. This was in most cases due to the fact that they preffered to listen to the opinions of their imported experts rather than listen to a Caymanian who had a wealth of practical experience to offer.

    One thing comes to mind was the purchase of the Cayman Protector for which the Government paid about 5 times its actual worth and then expected the poor Caymanian who sought its assistance to pay for it.

    The present set of police boats is another example of Government listening to their imported experts.

    These things have to be hidden all over the island from the publics view because they are falling apart and breaking up before they are even broken in.

    I dontthink they would choose to hide them behind the Fire Station if their was’nt something they needed to hide.

    If they cant find use for the helicopter, give it to me and I will fly it  with remote control.