The saga of the unused State-owned helicopter exemplifies the wanton misuse and wastage of public funds in the absence of an effective framework for State accountability.
Neither the People’s Partnership government that leased the Sikorsky S76D helicopter in 2014 nor the government of the People’s National Movement which has owned it for the past six years can divest itself of the responsibility for this multi-million-dollar wastage.
All the questions raised by National Security Minister Stuart Young about the lease arrangements entered into by the Persad-Bissessar government may be perfectly valid. However, they are irrelevant to the issue of why the Rowley administration allowed a new and expensive helicopter to languish unused for over six years. If the government disagreed with the previous government’s decision to lease the helicopter, it had the option of immediately moving to get out of the contract and, failing that, to sell it or re-purpose it and put it to good use.
One may speculate on why the last might have been a difficult option for the current administration. Having campaigned against the former prime minister’s use of a helicopter for travel between the PM’s office and official residence in Port of Spain to her private residence in South Trinidad, it may not have been politically wise for Dr Rowley to be taking to the skies in a helicopter of even greater luxury. However, given his schedule of regular trips between Tobago and Trinidad, as well as the heavy demand for travel between the islands by Tobago MPs and senior Government officials, it would have made sense to have put it to use rather than to have left it languishing and losing value in some shuttered hangar somewhere.
We note Minister Young’s reference to red flags and threats to request that the US Department of Justice probe it, but have to wonder why the public is only now hearing about all of this going on seven years after the Rowley administration took office. A public grown cynical by repeated invocation of corruption allegations which flare up only to fizz in accordance with the rhythm of election seasons may be inclined to view these presumed red flags as mere red herrings.
The more important issue here, however, is the lack of Government accountability in the use of public funds. Over and over, taxpayers’ funds are wasted through bad decisions taken by governments that commit the country to expenditure and disadvantageous contracts without availing themselves of the required expertise. Further, the country’s reputation suffers when one government fails to honour contracts signed by another, even when they do so on good grounds.
T&T has a long trail of disgraceful financial dealings going back to the Tesoro scandal of the 1970s and coming right through to the modern era. This problem can only be solved by greater transparency and accountability in government expenditure.
Removing the cloak of secrecy from government purchases of goods and services is long overdue. Having been brought kicking and screaming close to the point of implementing procurement legislation, as watered down as it is, there must now be no let-up.