Kaieteur News has provided enough facts and comparative data for the government to revisit its recent procurement of drones. Concerns have been expressed about the high cost of the drones and the benefits which will be derived from them, relative to their price tag.
The newspaper has pointed out that the monies which the government is spending to acquire these drones, could have been used to purchase helicopters. The newspaper was making a point about what it views as the prohibitive costs of the drones. It was not suggesting, as some misguided persons seem to presume, that it would have been cheaper to operate a helicopter than a drone.
A drone is an unmanned vehicle. It does not require a pilot or co-pilot. Its operational costs are cheaper than that of a helicopter. It is for this reason that drones are deployed for various purposes, including spraying of farms, for gathering intelligence, tracking wildfires, making movies, and in surveying the after effects of natural disasters. However, these cheaper operational costs can be easily offset if the acquisition costs are too high.
According to reports in the media, one of the uses to which the drones will be put, is surveillance of the country’s borders. And this is one of the uses which has generated controversy, because what is the use of the drones policing the borders when there is limited response capability? In other words, why spend money in the hope of detecting someone crossing the border, when there is no capability to intercept that person or do anything about it.
How will the police and army respond to any suspicious activity detected by the drones? It makes little sense deploying drones to acquire intelligence on illegal activities on our borders, when the army and police do not have aircraft to respond. The government therefore should establish the justification of acquiring these drones without any supporting aircraft which would allow for a response.
In deciding to acquire the drones – unless some big stick was behind this decision – some evaluation would have had to have been done to justify the acquisition. It would be in the government’s interest to indicate the source and the nature of the advice upon which it took this bizarre decision to acquire the drones.
In deciding on the specifications and model of the drones to be acquired, the government should have sought technical assistance, including from some of its allies in the West, including the United States military. The government should confirm whether such advice was sought and what was the advice given and to whom.
Enough has been said to raise “red flags” that these drones are grossly overpriced. The government should justify the enormous sums which have been paid for the drones by pointing to the costs of similar drones from other sources.
The drones would most likely have been procured by sole sourcing. The Procurement Act allows for single sole sourcing in the interest of national security. But because this provision can be exploited, it is for the Public Procurement Commission to examine carefully the terms of any sole sourcing, in order to determine whether this was necessary and whether the best deal was obtained. It should take note of the allegations that the drones may have been acquired from a start-up company
The government should clear up, also, the concerns which are being expressed about the technical capabilities of the drones. It is being suggested that the drones acquired are experimental drones which have not had extensive testing.
This is one of the most disturbing features of this entire arrangement. If Guyana is going to acquire drones, it should ensure that the models acquired have a good track record and have been subjected to extensive tests. It should not, on any account, be spending money on something which is in an experimental phase of development.
In 1989, the country was plagued by blackouts, often lasting eight or more hours per day. Desperate to find a quick solution to the electricity generation shortfall, the government acquired a barge which was used during the Vietnam War. It malfunctioned within the first two months of its installation. This forced the government to launch a Commission of Inquiry into the barge’s acquisition and functioning. The findings of that COI were damaging to the PNC government.
History must not repeat itself. The government has an obligation to assure Guyanese that it has not bought “pig in bag”. And that these drones are worth the millions which have been expended on their purchase.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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