Commissioner of Police Stuart Kernohan issued a scathing statement Friday blaming Cabinet for delaying the delivery of the already-purchased Eurocopter 1999 model helicopter for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
The statement came a little more than a week after Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Ministers Charles Clifford and Arden McLean accused Mr. Kernohan of misleading Cabinet about the capabilities of the helicopter purchased for the RCIPS in July 2007.
‘…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,’ Kernohan said. ‘They were aware of every detail, every step of the way, and to state otherwise now… is, at best, disingenuous.’
Kernohan, who is currently on required leave pending the outcome of an investigation into his possible misuse of public office, said the statements made in the Cabinet press briefing on 4 September ‘appear purposely misleading, politically motivated, possibly slanderous or libellous, and certainly incorrect’.
‘I personally briefed Government ministers on multiple occasions on the status and the complexities regarding the acquisition of the police helicopter,’ he said.
‘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.’
Among other things, Mr. Tibbetts said in the Cabinet press briefing the purchased helicopter could not fulfil the fundamental requirements for which it had been purchased, something Mr. Kernohan refuted.
‘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…’
The statement by Mr. Kernohan was his second in as many days; on Thursday, he issued a release refuting allegations made by Governor Stuart Jack that he had failed to return to the Cayman Islands when officially requested to do so.
He also denied that he was on compassionate leave as the Governor had suggested, and instead on leave required by the Public Service Management Law.
While on his required leave, Kernohan returned to the UK to be with his ailing father, who recently passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
‘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,’ he stated. ‘One must wonder whether their collective and convenient memory loss was motivated by political considerations or an otherwise unknown agenda.’
Kernohan stated that Cabinet made it known from the outset that a custom-made, new helicopter was beyond the financial capabilities of the Cayman Islands.
‘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,’ Kernohan said. ‘Cabinet fully knew this and also knew what trade-offs were involved in moving ahead with the helicopter which was ultimately selected…
‘They made decisions on the helicopter including the allocation of funds for the floats which they now claim they know nothing about.’
Kernohan said Cabinet ministers were informed of the operational limitations of the helicopter, but he contended it was still capable of doing the job for which it was purchased.
‘It will be able to complete all the tasks outlined to the ministers and will place the Cayman Islands in the forefront of police air support provisions in the Caribbean,’ he said. ‘Some weather and visibility conditions will prevent the machine from flying. This applies to all helicopters particularly those flying under visual flight rules.’
One of the reasons Mr. Tibbetts said the helicopter could not fulfil the requirements set out by Cabinet was that it could not service all three of the Cayman Islands day or night.
Kernohan said the minister’s claims were untrue.
‘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,’ he stated. ‘The police helicopter, which has two engines for additional speed, mobility, and safety, can fly at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour and is perfectly capable of reaching the Sister Islands in a very short time.’
The government purchased the helicopter for $1.8 million. Cabinet members seemed surprised that there had been another $1 million spent on it, but Kernohan said they knew from the beginning it would cost the extra money to retrofit the aircraft.
Kernohan also contended that Cabinet was well aware and had agreed that the annual operation budget for the helicopter would be $1 million.
‘Cabinet and the portfolio of the Civil Service have since attempted to cut the annual operating budget 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,’ Kernohan stated. ‘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.’
Need for helicopter
Kernohan said the Cayman Islands indisputably needed at least one helicopter and maybe more to maintain the safety and security of the islands, and to provide search-and-rescue missions in offshore waters.
‘Nearly all illegal drugs and contraband firearms are transhipped to the Cayman Islands by sea… and there are no other effective means to locate and interdict these illegal shipments without the assistance of a properly equipped helicopter,’ he stated.
‘In fact, intelligence suggests 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.’
Delay in delivery.
Kernohan laid the blame for delivery of the helicopter directly on Cabinet.
‘The real issue behind the delay of the arrival of the helicopter is not the structural and equipment modifications, 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. ‘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 the people of the Cayman Islands should not be deceived.
‘There is real urgency to putting this helicopter 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?’