By Zena Henry
Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon, disclosed on Wednesday that trips
taken by Head of State, President Donald Ramotar, on board the ‘money jet’ detained in Puerto Rico would have cost taxpayers ‘hundreds of thousands of US dollars”.
The media was promised last week, that the figures would have been made public for the cost of the President and his delegation’s trips on the jet, but that was not forthcoming. Luncheon told the media however, that the government did not hire the jet for anyone apart from the President.
When asked about the hiring, Luncheon said, “not to my knowledge, we (government) have only used that service as it says executive service; so at all times that we hired it, it was essentially the President and his delegation.”
Luncheon also explained that the government had paid for three trips and he is unaware as to whether any waivers; reductions, discounts or other, was offered to the Administration. “I don’t know who negotiated, but whatever came for Cabinet’s decision, saying this is the cost of the charter, this is what we paid.”
Luncheon then opined that the figures could have been “tens of thousands of US dollars.” When news of the jet’s co-pilot and owner Khamraj Lall’s detention surfaced, many questions were being asked, since it was disclosed that President Ramotar had been a passenger on board the carrier on more than one occasion. It was learnt further, that Lall had a private hangar at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) from where he was conducting executive and medical charter services.
Members of the aviation authorities on Tuesday sought to clarify what they said was misinformation in the public domain. They disclosed that Lall had been given clearance to construct the hangar in Guyana by Cabinet since 2012. However, one week earlier the Cabinet Secretary was unaware of any of the information, and had directed all questions to the relevant heads of the aviation agencies.
Minister of Transport Robeson Benn had told reporters that Exec Jet Club had performed all of its local transactions above board and the company had adhered to all local regulations and had all its international documentation and requirements in order. It was explained further that the aviation authorities were not exactly concerned about the accusations against Lall, since locally he committed no action to warrant that. Benn said Lall’s business is currently not in operation and no decision had been taken on how to handle the current situation on the local front.
Minister Benn stated however, that the country was in fact losing a vital service, since Lall was the first individual to provide this type of high-end service.
Benn disclosed that the Office of the President would have used the jet service to take President Ramotar to Antigua, St. Vincent and Brazil, and it was a cheaper service.
“In all of those cases – and I want to repeat – in all of those cases, it was much more economical, on time, in terms of connection to those places, and on money, if you compare the use of Executive Jet Club LLC’s service to the normal operators.”
When asked, Benn said however that his Ministry would not be privy to “money facts” information pertaining to the cost of the private charter, but he opined that using the private jet would have been easier on time and the pocket.
“I remember some discussion in the use of the Exec Jet Club LLC – going I think to Antigua or St. Vincent by the President and checks were being made around as to the time, the limited time they had available to be there, the amount of time it would take to get there and the prices… and I clearly remember, just off the top, perhaps, that it was more economical in time and money to use it (jet service).”
Benn said he could be wrong but that is what he “clearly remembered” since he was involved in discussions. The rationale behind his calculations, he said, relates to satisfactory pricing, and not only time consumption.
The Exec Jet Club owner was detained less than two weeks ago after he was found with US$620,000 on board his private jet which offers commercial services. The plane was re-fueling in the unincorporated US territory of Puerto Rico, when checks were being made by authorities. The money was stashed in various parts of the plane which was destined for Guyana. Lall attended court in that country last Monday and was granted US$100,000 bail. He asked that information pertaining to his bail remain confidential.
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