Cabinet insists it was misled

Cayman Islands Cabinet ministers went point-by-point over their previous negotiations involving the Royal Cayman Islands Police purchase of a helicopter in an extremely detailed statement Thursday, responding to criticism from Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan that ministers simply hadn’t paid much attention to the issue during those talks.

The 1999 Eurocopter’s arrival on island has been delayed more than a year since it was bought in 2007 for $1.8 million. Cabinet ministers have said the delay was largely due to operational difficulties, which don’t allow the vehicle to be flown in certain bad weather or night-time conditions, or operate safely over water for an extended period of time.

Mr. Kernohan has refuted those statements, essentially claiming that ministers were delaying the arrival of a viable aircraft for reasons that were unclear. (see Caymanian Compass, 15 September)

‘We must set the record straight…in a number of areas (Thursday),’ Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said. ‘(Thursday’s) statements will be based on the good ole ‘black and white’ of what was presented to us for consideration and what we agreed to or approved. (Those statements) can be substantiated to anyone who is empowered to review them.’

Mr. Tibbetts said there were seven separate criteria which Cabinet members insisted upon when the decision was made to purchase a helicopter rather than a fixed-wing aircraft for the police service in late November, 2006. Those factors were: border security, police pursuits, critical incident response, surveillance, search and rescue, long range deployment of resources in ‘quick time’ to support policing requirements and casualty evacuations.

Ministers said they were concerned about the Eurocopter’s ability to perform the last two functions, partly because the aircraft had not been equipped for instrument-guided flight, and partly because the vehicle was not configured with permanent or pop-out floatation devices.

‘The Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has indicated that the aircraft, as it is, cannot fulfil the roles which we had agreed back on 29 November 2006 that it needed to be able to fulfil,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

Ministers have said Cabinet members were only recently made aware of these issues. Mr. Kernohan could not immediately respond for comment by press time on the statements made Thursday.

During the 26 November, 2006, meeting, Cabinet agreed in principle to the purchase of a helicopter, assuming it was safe and met all the criteria ministers had set out. It was thought the costs would come close to the $1.8 million that had initially been envisaged for a fixed-wing aircraft. Government also set aside another $350,000-$400,000 to retrofit the aircraft, and estimated the annual operating costs at $1.1 million.

It was estimated at the time that the aircraft would be used some 420 hours per year, subject to the police commissioner exploring purchase or leasing options for the vehicle.

‘There was definitely no lack of clarity on our part as to what we wanted to be able to do with a helicopter, what kind of helicopter we needed, and what it was felt it would cost,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

At a meeting on 13 March, 2007 ministers said Mr. Kernohan recommended the purchase of an aircraft, as opposed to leasing. He said at the time that a helicopter had been identified, which was potentially suitable for RCIPS needs.

Ministers said they were never informed at that time that the aircraft lacked any capabilities Cabinet agreed it should have.

On 20 March, 2007, Cabinet members said they asked the commissioner to report back to Cabinet on how the vehicle would be flown, maintained and stored. They said the commissioner received that request three days later.

There were temporary delays in the purchasing activities during April because of various technical issues with the Eurocopter. In July, Cabinet was told the costs to prepare the aircraft for service had gone up slightly because of various reasons; including shipping the helicopter to the US, assembly and painting of the aircraft and a finder’s fee for the vendor.

Those services increased the anticipated costs by roughly $350,000.

In November 2007, Cabinet was told that the outer surface of the Eurocopter, the ‘skin’ as it is called, had a number of small cracks in it that needed repair. The price of the winch/hoist apparatus on the vehicle had also more than doubled at that point. Additional funding was approved.

Mr. Kernohan, according to Cabinet ministers, also advised that he had completed his proposal regarding how the helicopter would be flown, housed and maintained.

‘The advice, which we received, was that we should approve the RCIPS accepting a contract proposal, which it had received from a local company, Cayman Islands Helicopters, to provide these services and that we should advise the Central Tenders Committee of our decision,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘That is simply not how we wish to see the business of the government conducted.’

At that point, Cabinet decided to put the contracts for the piloting, maintenance and storage of the aircraft out to tender. That process has still not been completed.

It is unclear at this point when the Eurocopter will be brought to the Cayman Islands, if ever. Government is still exploring the option of selling the vehicle and purchasing a new one, as well as the potential of retro-fitting the existing aircraft.