Trade Minister Mariano Browne lashed out at what he called inaccurate reporting by another daily newspaper, which criticised the high investment the Government was making in the four helicopters to patrol the nation's borders and to support drug interdiction.
Browne, who sat on the committee with oversight in the procurement process for the helicopters, said contrary to the statements made in the newspaper editorial, the Government pursued a rigorous selection and tendering process that included input and advice from a US consultant with experience in procuring similar equipment for the US and other governments.
Apart from Browne who represented the Ministry of Finance, the procurement committee comprised other government officials, including the Attorney General, the National Security Minister and top representatives from the armed forces. He said the report was inaccurate in many ways in that the successful bidder for the contract was the US-based company Augusta-Westland, and not an Italian supplier. "The helicopters will not cost $2.1 billion, but will actually cost US$93.5 million or TT$589 million, less than quarter of the figure quoted in the editorial," Browne said.
"The remainder of the cost will include training for 136 pilots, spare-parts, maintenance and the development of support facilities to accommodate the new equipment after it arrives. "The contract requires the suppliers to provide up to seven years training and support for the new aircraft. "All this money will not be paid at once to the supplier, and much of it will go towards other support systems and services needed for the helicopters.
"The payment for those aircraft will be accounted for in the upcoming national budget while the other two aircraft will be delivered in 2011, and will be allocated in that year's budget."
Providing some specifications of the aircraft, Browne said each would have a troop carrying capacity of 15 and would have a payload of up to 1500 kg.
The aircraft would have a range of 522 nautical miles, he added. "The helicopters are not attack helicopters as reported in the media, they are designed to accommodate ammunition, so it can be flexible enough to deal with the types of interdiction and law enforcement scenarios that we are likely to face both on land and over the ocean," Browne said.