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MPs to grill Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery over Sh900m helicopter

Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery and his Principal Secretary Monica Juma will appear before a parliamentary committee over the contested acquisition of a Sh900 million second-hand helicopter for police.

This comes barely weeks after Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett canceled two international tenders to buy a brand new chopper and spares for grounded aircraft.

Parliamentary Accounts Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo told The Standard on Saturday that the inconsistencies in tenders for security equipment had necessitated investigations to determine whether the police would get value for money or the ministry had found a new avenue to funnel out public funds.

Eng Gumbo said it is inconceivable that a tender to buy new helicopters for the police was cancelled only for the ministry to enter a deal with a vendor of secondhand aircraft at nearly the same cost as the brand new one. “They will appear before our committee soon. They have to talk,” Gumbo said, scoffing at the argument that security budgets are classified information.

Three weeks after IGP Boinett denied knowledge of plans to purchase Tanzanian-registered AgustaWestland AW139 (AW139) helicopter from Everett Aviation, the Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka confirmed the process is at an advanced stage. Mr Njoka told The Standard on Saturday the acquisition is being kept under wraps “because these are security procurements” that are not open to public scrutiny.

“Yes, we are acquiring the helicopter. I am not authorised to go into details,” he said on phone.

The controversy over the Sh900 million secondhand helicopter comes to the fore as the Auditor General Edward Ouko’s report says a quarter or Sh450 billion of the country’s Sh1.6 trillion budget cannot not be accounted for.

Although he had earlier talked of a direct acquisition from Italy-based AugustaWestland manufacturers, details in our possession point to ongoing talks between Simon Everett and the ministry officials who have already held a series of meetings at the Office of the President. We could not reach Mr Everett, who is reportedly seeking Kenyan citizenship, to confirm when he will deliver the aircraft.

However, contacted earlier, a Tanzania-based senior official of Everett Aviation confirmed the firm owns three AW139 helicopters, but would not authoritatively say if the helicopter that is in their hangar in Dar es Salaam will be sold to the Kenya Police Airwing.

The official, who preferred anonymity confirmed that Everett had applied for Kenya citizenship, but denied this was to align his business interests to recent regulations by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority that require 51 per cent of shareholding in aviation firms be local.

“AW139 is suitable for low lying areas like coastal regions, wherethe air pressure is high. The air in high altitude regions is thin and not enough to propel them. In addition, the AW139 helicopters do not have air filters like the Eurocopters and MIs, which means dust can easily get into the engines. Such choppers are ideal for offshore rigging and marine resource exploration. There is no dust in the sea to affect the engines,” the Everett Aviation staffer says.

He further explains that the AW139 helicopters are most suitable for offshore oil drilling, search and rescue missions.

The official also confirmed that Everett Aviation had been contracted by Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas production firm, to support its drilling operations offshore Tanzania.

The February edition of Regional News, an aviation industry magazine reported: “Statoil is reported to be ending its contract with Everett Aviation to support drilling offshore Tanzania, following the downturn in oil process. Everett has operated three new AugustaWestland AW139 helicopters on contract since 2013 from their base in Dar es Salaam under partnership with the Bristow Group. Bristow expected to relocate the helicopters and the crews elsewhere until Statoil make a decision on resuming oil and gas exploration in the area.”

On July 20, the government, through Njoka, in a statement described the procurement as above board and as “state-of- the-art aircraft” necessary for the police to respond to emergencies on time.
The ministry says it opted for the AW139 because it is a “superior’ chopper and carries more people than the Euro 145, which is the competing class of Euro helicopter against the AW139. The Italian firm controls 46 per cent of the world market in choppers.

The government defended the procurement despite the fact that AgustaWestland has been blacklisted in India, Sweden, Canada, Britain and Italy for alleged involvement in business irregularity running into hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Canadian newspaper, Star reported in March the AugustaWestland was under probe for financial improprieties totaling $6.7 million (Sh607 million) to influence sale of 12 choppers.

Quoting lead police investigator Chris Lewis, the Star reported: Lewis would not speculate whether charges would be laid in the ORNGE case, but he said the charges being probed ‘in investigation of this type’ include fraud, breach of trust, fraud against government, theft, secret commissions and breach of fiduciary duty.

The Indian government was forced to cancel a tender for supply of 12 AW139 helicopters following conrevesy over cost of purchase.