After the grounding of the four US$348 million AgustaWestland helicopters in June 2017, one of them is ready to take to the skies again.
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting of the Standing Finance Committee, National Security Minister Stuart Young announced that Cabinet recently took the decision to refurbish one of the AW139s.
On June 30, 2017, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a post-Cabinet news conference had stated the Government could not afford to pay the negotiated $200 million-a-year to maintain the helicopters which had been acquired in 2009.
“We just can’t afford that. And if we can’t afford it then the helicopters will just stay on the ground... The question that arises is: Is that the best way to spend $200 million in the fight against crime?” the PM asked.
Following the termination of the maintenance and technical support contract, the company, Cobham PLC, took the Government to court and was eventually awarded US$10 million in January of this year.
Young said in the Standing Finance Committee: “We have recently taken a decision at Cabinet to get one of those AW139s back in operation, which I expect would happen in the next couple of weeks.
“The asset has been refurbished and is ready to take to the skies again. So during that time there was a reduction in the need for certain officers, pilots and mechanics, etc and there will be a recruitment to get some of those personnel back on board.”
More staff to be hired
In discussing measures to enhance the Coast Guard fleet, Young said the Coast Guard also had two smaller helicopters.
“Covid caused a setback in terms of pilots having to do (simulation) training and having to be recertified. (Covid) had slowed the process down. So that is taking place now. We have the two fixed-wing C26 aircraft, both are operational... But there is some additional work to be done to those aircraft from a surveillance point of view,” he said.
Responding to a question from Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein on whether Government intended to fill vacancies in the Coast Guard in light of the acquisition of two new Cape Class vessels which are due in Trinidad and Tobago shortly, Young said there would be an increase in the recruitment in the Coast Guard.
“We are looking at the increase in the need for manpower and if necessary we will go to Cabinet with respect to that.”
However, he stressed: “There is no complaint with respect to a lack of manpower with respect to the borders. As I have said on numerous occasions, when you have maritime borders it is impossible to have a full and impenetrable wall, as we see happening in the UK and areas in Europe and even in the US. But with respect to the two Cape Class vessels there is going to be a recruitment to make sure that those vessels have sufficient crew for the rotation to have them out at sea.”
Notwithstanding the freeze in hiring in the public sector, Young said there would continue to be recruitment in the various arms of national security (fire, police, prisons, defence force). He said the freeze would apply to the “administrative side” of the ,ministry.
He said if the Public Service recommends promotions they will be made.
With respect to the Forensic Science Centre (FSC), he said the Government continues to push hard to increase the expertise and experienced personnel, especially in forensic pathology.
On the issue of ballistics, he said the FSC trained 25 police officers in ballistics to help supplement expertise in this area.
He said Cabinet continues to offer scholarships in forensic pathology but this was not an area where people were rushing into and if they are nationals, they are not coming back home. However, he stressed that while the FSC was operating with two pathologists (out of four) there was no backlog at the moment, “knock on wood”.
Young also announced that Cabinet took a decision to reduce the contributions by ten per cent to regional bodies (such as Caricom IMPACS) under national security.
He said it cannot be that Government is reducing its expenditure but regional bodies are increasing their expenditure in the current climate where other Caricom countries are facing even more difficulty than T&T.