Archive for September 13th, 2008

Helicopter blame shifts

Helicopter blame shifts

| 13/09/2008 | 16 Comments

(CNS): Suspended Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan (left) has accused government ministers of making statements to the press regarding the police helicopter that “appear purposely misleading, politically motivated, possibly slanderous or libelous, and certainly incorrect”. Furthermore, he suggested that every day the machine is delayed, for which he blames Cabinet, is “a good day for the bad guys”.

Kernohan was responding to accusations by Members of Cabinet at a press briefing on 4 September that the helicopter would not meet local requirements and the fault lay with Kernohan. “That Commissioner of Police misled us into believing that it would do what we needed it to and I am extremely disappointed. I was not elected to waste people’s funds,” said Minister Arden McLean.

Seeking to “set the record straight”, Kernohan maintained that despite their claims to the contrary, “at no point over the last two years were Cabinet ministers in any way misled or deceived – intentionally or otherwise – about the capabilities, the cost, or the cost of retrofitting or modifying the helicopter the Government has purchased. They were aware of every detail, every step of the way, and to state otherwise now – more than two years after this process was initiated and multiple briefings – is, at best, disingenuous.”

Shifting the blame to Cabinet, rather than their claimed deficiencies in the helicopter, for delays in its arrival, Kernohan said, “The people of the Cayman Islands should not be deceived: There is real urgency to putting thishelicopter into operation, and every day it is delayed is ‘a good day for the bad guys’. Why would anyone wish to delay the arrival of this asset?”

Through his local media liaison, journalist and publisher David Legge, Kernohan, who is still Police Commissioner, said intelligence suggested that the quantity of drugs and firearms into the Cayman Islands increased dramatically in anticipation of the arrival of the police helicopter. “Those who would do these islands harm view this helicopter as a serious threat to their illegal and illicit operations, and view the delay as an opportunity to act with increased impunity.”

Pointing a finger at government, he said the real issue behind the delay of the arrival of the helicopter was not the structural and equipment modifications that they had approved, but Cabinet’s decision in November 2007 to place out to full tender the support services for the machine, including hangar and maintenance services, pilot recruitment and hiring, and other ancillary issues. He said that at the time, Cabinet was warned that such a lengthy process would delay the implementation of the helicopter by at least six to nine months. They decided to move forward with this process anyway and, importantly, as of this week, these support issues still have not been resolved.

Kernohan said he personally briefed government ministers on multiple occasions on the status and the complexities regarding the acquisition of the police helicopter, and did not disagree with Minister Arden McLean’s assertion that approximately six briefings took place.

“At these briefings, however, it appeared that attending Ministers were not even taking notes or absorbing important details regarding this purchase. Therefore, at each briefing, we would have to start at the beginning and repeat much of the same information as if no previous briefings had taken place. Nevertheless, these briefings were comprehensive and inclusive. No salient facts or information were omitted – purposefully or otherwise,” he said.

The briefings included updates on the progress of various mandatory documents required by the Cayman Islands Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), one of which was the Police Operations Manual where agreement was to be made on flight parameters for the police helicopter, including when and where it could be flown. This manual had to be approved by the CAA, said Kernohan, and claimed Cabinet members were informed that for all aircraft used for this type of work, certain weather and visibility conditions would ground the helicopter. He said comprehensive discussions took place with the CAA, and that the regulation of the helicopter was their decision.

Kernohan continued, “Despite the multiple comprehensive briefings to Cabinet, a review of the audiotape of the recent press briefing suggests that Ministers still have little comprehension of the operational capabilities of the machine they themselves have purchased on behalf of the people of the Cayman Islands.”

He said that because of the considerable cost to acquire and maintain a proprietary helicopter for the RCIPS, Cabinet made itknown from the outset that a custom-made, perfectly equipped new aircraft was beyond the financial reach of the Cayman Islands. The long delivery time was also unsuitable because of the worldwide demand for such machines.

“Compromises at the behest of Cabinet were made, including buying a pre-owned helicopter at a substantially reduced price and retrofitting it to meet the specific needs of the islands. Cabinet fully knew this and also knew what trade-offs were involved in moving ahead with the helicopter which was ultimately selected – a 1999 Eurocopter 135T1 police craft. They made decisions on the helicopter including the allocation of funds for the floats which they now claim they know nothing about,” Kernohan said.

The original purchase price of this helicopter was $1.8million with approximately an additional $1 million allocated to modifying or retrofitting the machine. A considerable saving was made on the purchase of the helicopter against its current market value at that time, Kernohan claimed.

“Cabinet and the portfolio of the Civil Service have since attempted to cut the annual operating budget (agreed at CI$1 million annually) for the operation and maintenance of this machine, and I was told that there was insufficient funding available due to the Government’s financial position. In my view, the proposed budget was the minimum required to run the machine safely and effectively, and this was forcefully highlighted in briefings and written reports."

He said that given the cost constraints imposed by Cabinet, the helicopter would provide a very capable machine. It would be able to complete all the tasks outlined to the ministers and would place the Cayman Islands in the forefront of police air-support provision in the Caribbean, he said. Some weather and visibility conditions would prevent the machine from flying, but this applied to all helicopters, particularly those flying under visual flight rules.

“Any claims that this helicopter may have to be sold into the open market because of lack of operational capability is simply scaremongering and untrue,” Kernohan said. “Contrary to impressions left by certain Cabinet Ministers, this helicopter is more than capable of flying at night except when visibility or weather is prohibitive.”

“As many in Cayman know, I returned to the UK to be with my father during what we feared would be his final days. I am saddened to report that he recently passed away after fighting a long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kernohan.

Concluding with a damning blow at government ministers he said, “Even on his worst days, however, my father’s memory was far superior to that on display by the Ministers at their recent press briefing. One must wonder whether their collective (and convenient) memory loss was motivated by political considerations or an otherwise unknown agenda.”


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