Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi may have suffered another big legal loss yesterday in the matter between the State and international helicopter provider, Cobham PLC. According to a statement on the matter, the State is expected to now pay out over US $10 million to the company. The State, represented by the AG’s office, “lost its final appeal filed by Cobham relating to the company’s service provisions that provided crew, training, and maintenance of the now permanently grounded Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard (TTAG) helicopter fleet”.
Guardian Media contacted Al-Rawi who said he was not aware of the ruling but would confirm whether the State had really lost the case.
Minister of National Security, Stuart Young yesterday distanced himself from the matter, saying that only Al-Rawi would be able to answer.
“The matter is handled by the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs. Unfortunately, I am not aware of the details of the litigation and the various outcomes,” he said in response to a text message yesterday.
But while the AG’s office remained silent yesterday, according to a statement on the Collective magazine website, the AG’s Office had initially argued that the contract was “not valid as it did not receive approval from the Central Tenders Board” but that was proven to be an invalid defense as Defense Force goods and services are exempted from requiring Central Tenders Board approval.
“The TT AG’s office had filed two continuance requests in the suit and was seeking a third, blaming a facility move that happened earlier in the year as their reason for not being ready to defend the case. The judgment was made after refusal of the third continuance request, ordering the state to pay UK based Cobham US$10,638,000, and all subsequent legal costs associated with the defendants case filing to recoup the money owed,” the article stated.
This latest loss adds another almost $70 million to a massive US$348 million paid out in 2009 when the People’s National Movement (PNM) under former Prime Minister Patrick Manning first agreed to the deal.
Former consultant at the Ministry of National Security Sanjay Badri-Maharaj yesterday called the entire situation an “embarrassment”.
“They (Government) failed to file a defense after being granted extensions,” he said.
“The National Security Ministry screwed up from the inception of this during the Manning era and the maintenance contract was expensive and one-sided. Honestly, these helicopters should not have been purchased,” he said.
Badri-Maharaj said that the helicopters were too expensive for a “fledgling air arm”.
“They are excellent aircraft but we were building our capability from scratch. That made us vulnerable to one-sided contracts,” he said.
“For a US $348 million dollar investment, we got next to no operational use out of those helicopters,” he said.
Badri-Maharaj said that the contract included aircraft, training, and maintenance.
“It was expensive but then again, these are very expensive helicopters to operate and maintain,” he said.
“It was the intention to operate the helicopters from both shore and the OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels). However, even after five years of “training”, we didn’t have a single fully operational or qualified local command pilot (pilot on chief). We had two partially trained PICs,” he said.
In March 2017, the Ministry of National Security entered a two-year contract with the company to provide maintenance and technical support the Air Guard’s four AW139 helicopters, acquired in 2009.
Parent company Cobham was forced to get involved after the State terminated a contract with Leonardo Helicopters to provide the service which was subcontracted in part to Cobham.
In June 2017, Rowley announced the cancellation of the service and maintenance aspect of the contract. He said then that the Government just could not afford that payment, given the current economic climate.
He said then that Cabinet took the decision that the State was not in a position to pay the $200 million to maintain our four Augusta helicopters for one year, effectively grounding the choppers.
Rowley said then that his Cabinet had to consider whether spending $200 million to maintain the helicopters was the best allocation of money in the fight against crime. He also said then that other helicopters were available to use in crime-fighting.
He said that while he was not averse to selling off the helicopters, it was not under consideration then.