Sunday, December 17, 2017

A minister’s misinformation

 Very few people are given the opportunity to contribute to the task of nation-building at the highest level. Most are limited to “Walter Mitty” moments to fanaticise about what they would do if given the chance. Not many are allowed to have a ringside seat which would allow them to observe, learn and prepare before taking the plunge.

The fourth Minister of National Security in this UNC-led administration, Gary Griffith, was better placed than most of his predecessors. In addition to his military background and Sandhurst training, he had the benefit of three years as National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and as a member of the National Security Council. Prior to that he was an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s security policy and is a self-styled security expert with a security business to boot.

Clearly, he is no novice and should be fully apprised of all the facts relating to his portfolio. Even if he is not, he is in a unique position to get the facts.

Notwithstanding these advantages and his obvious love of the limelight, there is little in the Minister’s pronouncements to reassure the country that he is either up to the task, understands his role or has anything but a superficial grasp of the facts. Witness his statements regarding the recent drug interdiction in Virginia to the effect that ministers would not be informed of developments to ensure that no information is passed to the wrong persons. Or alternatively, that 60 per cent of the murder victims were criminals. Further, in a wide-ranging interview with Tony Lee and Dale Enoch on the I95.5FM Morning Show on January 10, the National Security Minister stated that crime should not be politicised but then proceeded to make a number of reckless and politically charged statements.

It would be an understatement to say that we are all dissatisfied with the high murder rate and low crime detection rate; and further, that crime should be a bipartisan, not a political issue and that we should all seek to find a long term solution. It is another thing altogether to misrepresent the facts.

The minister stated that the four helicopters purchased from Agusta Westland were “overpriced” at US$85 million each when they should only have cost TT$85 million each. In addition, that India had cancelled its order with Agusta Westland because of that organisation’s corrupt practices. Not satisfied with those statements, he also said that the helicopters were inadequate to the task because there were no technical people involved in their selection. Coming from a Minister of National Security, such statements would be damning if they were true. But none of them are. For starters, India cancelled its Agusta Westland contract to snub the US for its treatment of an Indian consular official.

What are the facts? First, the four medium twin turbine helicopters cost US$93.6 million or US$23.4 million each. This price included all customisation costs required to configure the helicopters for their role in supporting the offshore patrol vessels, including additional armour plating. But these are sophisticated pieces of equipment which have to be maintained to a high standard. Phase 2 of the contract dealt with these matters. The cost of the maintenance support package was US$129.7 million and the cost of training was US$125.8 million. 

Indeed, the evaluation team expressly considered the cost of maintenance and training as critical components in the overall cost benefit analysis.

In particular, the evaluation team contained all the technical resources to do a full evaluation of all the tenders. The Agusta Westland package was selected precisely because the training and maintenance packages were superior to the alternatives. The “rejected” proposals from other suppliers were adjudged to have been “insufficient for achieving operational efficiency for pilots, air crew, and technical and maintenance specialists”.

The minister also asserted that he would institute an audit of the entire procurement process. I will not reveal the names of the technical team which did the evaluation and made the recommendation. Suffice it to say that it was dominated by persons who had a background in military equipment procurement and included the commanding and deputy commanding officers of the Air Guard, the Commander (Operations) of the Coast Guard and safety specialists. For balance, the team also included legal and finance personnel to facilitate a complete evaluation. If that were not enough, the team was also advised by a retired US Coast Guard captain with specialist training in helicopter equipment procurement.

The minister also revisited the OPV procurement programme and invented a new angle to show why the idea was flawed. I will withhold comment as it is too ludicrous to repeat it. On the issue of national security policy, the minister made even more egregious statements that I will address in my next article, “Towards a crime policy”.

• Mariano Browne is a 

management consultant and a 

former government minister