…Army silent on plane scandal
The army has remained silent on the purchase of four planes despite growing concerns over the costs and the due diligence that were conducted.
In 2018, just about three years after it entered office, the Coalition Government moved to buy four planes for the army- the smaller Islanders and two Skyvans. The latter are capable of fetching soldiers.
The two Britten-Norman Islanders arrived around August 2018 while the two Shorts Sc-7 Skyvans reportedly came in June last year. The story was carried last Sunday, July 26, in Kaieteur News highlighting the over $700M that was reportedly spent on the planes.
Two of the planes are not in operation as they are grounded and there are reports that tens of millions of dollars have been spent to bring the planes up to regulations-readiness. It was the former Minister of State for the Coalition government, Joseph Harmon, who had told the National Assembly in early 2018 that the Islanders were first manufactured in 1976 while the Skyvans were first manufactured in 1977.
The army was asked to respond to a number of questions related to the procurement of the aircraft, the expenditure so far on maintenance and repairs, and the private provision of flight services in the wake of the aircraft being grounded. The Public Relations Department acknowledged receipt of the request but has not provided the information sought. There were attempts to follow-up on the matter, but to no avail. According to persons in the aviation industry, including persons knowledgeable about pricing, there is no way that Guyana could have spent that much on four used planes.
“We know the prices” one source told this paper, “Everybody knows. It shocked everyone that we paid that much for planes manufactured in the 1970s.”
According to another industry expert, $700M for four planes manufactured in the 1970s is just too much: “Something smells to high heavens here. Repairs will carry that seven hundred million price tag to over one billion. That is what we’re looking at. The Army must tell the people of Guyana what happened here.”
With regards to how the aircraft were bought, Harmon had said that the Skyvans, which were being used for troop transport and parachuting, were procured from Belgium through Liberty Aviation, an American company that operates from North Carolina. The Islanders, according to Harmon, were purchased from Brazil which utilized the planes for passenger and cargo services. Both models are no longer being manufactured. According to persons familiar with the purchase of aircraft, it is very important that one takes into account the flying hours that would have been chalked up by a plane.
“It is like a car,” one expert said, “the more mileage it has, the less you pay. So it is even if the plane looks new, the hours on the engine, in layman’s language, is what you have to pay attention to. If we are facing problems that these planes were purchased and then you had to take out the engines and replace them, then clearly something is wrong.”
According to several sources, one of the Islanders remained stripped since it came in 2018 because of technical problems. Millions of dollars was spent on the other Islander to make it airworthy and cleared to take to the skies. One of the Skyvans, since arriving in June last year, barely flew a few months before being grounded. Kaieteur News was told last week that it would cost as much as the original purchase to bring the Skyvan up to be deemed airworthy.
In May 2018, the Coalition was grilled in the National Assembly after an application was made for $484M in additional funding for the army for the purchases. The approval was granted for the additional sums representing final payment towards the purchase of the four fixed-wing aircrafts. Faced with numerous questions about the purchase from the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Harmon, who had responsibilities for the Army, had insisted that: “The Skyvans and Islanders are aircraft [that] people who have them don’t sell them. It’s like having a Rolls-Royce.”
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