National Security Minister Stuart Young announced the cost of two major projects that highlight the need for a more serious approach to public procurement. At a meeting of the Standing Finance Committee on Wednesday, Young noted that two helicopter contracts signed by the UNC administration in 2014 will cost the country $44 million. Neither was used for anything that would justify such an expenditure.
According to Young, one helicopter never came to TT, because the certificate for it to leave Delaware in the US could not be provided. The license for the second, which was assigned to the National Operations Centre, ran out a few months after it arrived. “By November 2015, it was no longer licensed to fly,” Young said.
Poor scrutiny and challenge of contracts left TT liable for millions spent on undelivered services. The minister would have been sensible to acknowledge, at least to himself just a few hours later in a second announcement about the airport passport control kiosks, these are not just political failings; they are institutional.
In December 2017, overseen by an Airports Authority board appointed by the PNM, a seven-year contract was awarded to Novo Technology, a subsidiary of the OCM group, for passport processing kiosks at Piarco International Airport. This contract looks set to cost the country about $300 million over seven years, based on a contract provision that evidently guarantees Novo a monthly payment for a minimum of 100,000 passengers at a rate of US$5.10 per user.
Any citizen who has returned to the country since the installation of the kiosks – lauded at their installation as a convenience and a security upgrade – can attest to two things. They are not regularly used, and anyone who does, still has to visit an Immigration officer for the normal checks. Unlike airport kiosks installed in other international airports, our systems do not tie into the Immigration database and it is unclear whether they are connected to any international border control systems. If the kiosks are not connected to any verification databases, then they are, unequivocally, a pappyshow, and an expensive one at that.
Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce president Ramchand Maraj and Penal/Debe Chamber of Commerce president Rampersad Sieuraj have both called for more accountability and transparency in government’s development projects. To that we can add a request for thorough, nonpartisan investigation into these indicators of procurement negligence and contract review carelessness.
This is a clear warning that our lax systems of procurement are leaving us vulnerable to not just corruption, but stupidity. Investments on this scale should bring real value to this country.