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No answers

By Andre Bagoo Friday, March 7 2008

click on pic to zoom in

ONE DAY after receiving a letter from Caribbean Airlines (CA) proposing the purchase of a $400 million jet for an executive jet service, Cabinet agreed to the purchase, Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday.

But while Imbert made the disclosure at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing he avoided answers to several questions concerning the details of the arrangement and, more importantly, how the proposal came about in the first place.

And while Arthur Lok Jak, the CA chairman, yesterday confirmed that a Bombardier Global XRS jet was currently “in production”, Imbert said the Cabinet’s agreement to finance the purchase of the jet was not yet a done deal as it now depends on the insertion of what he termed “an anti-corruption clause” within a contract between the parties involved in the arrangement.

“Up to (yesterday) morning —as far as I know– the aircraft had not been paid for. The money has not been sent to the company (Bombardier) that owns the aircraft,” he said.

“Cabinet at its meeting of last week...did agree to support CA to establish an executive jet service. But that does not mean that the transaction has been consummated because there are some issues that need to be resolved.”

The Cabinet met on February 28, the day after CA sent a letter to the Ministry of Finance making the request for $400 million (US$65 million).

Asked to specify the exact date the Government began discussions with CA, he said, “from the information available to me, I am reading from a letter that is dated February 27, 2008 but it is clear to me from this letter that the discussions took place in February or thereabouts.”

He then raised the issue of an anti-corruption clause as a condition for a contract to acquire the jet.

“We are insisting on the insertion of a standard anti-corruption clause in the contract where if it is discovered that any person had somehow benefitted from this transaction the contract will be void and the seller will have to refund the money.

“Until the Government is satisfied that that aspect of the contract is in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago this contract will not be executed...If the sellers are not willing to comply with the insertion of an anti-corruption clause then certainly this acquisition will not take place.”

Effectively leaving several questions unanswered, the Works Minister at one stage told a Newsday reporter, who was probing for more details of the Government’s proposed multi-million dollar deal, “you remind me of a special prosecutor in a court of law.”

Asked whether the Ministry of Finance approached CA to initiate the proposed jet service Imbert said, “from the info available to me I can tell you that Cabinet has agreed to support CA in the establishment of an executive jet service.”

Asked the same question a second time, Imbert said, “from this letter that I am reading, what I am seeing is that there were discussions and CA indicated that there would be a requirement for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to engage in significant travel (to) North America, Europe, Asia and Africa because of a number of initiatives of the Government over the last year or so.”

“The Government has established working relations with Cuba and a number of African nations for the purpose of providing assistance in oil and gas developments and also the Government is expected to travel to multiple destinations throughout North America Europe and Asia. I’m reading,” he continued, skimming some pages.

JET JET from Page 3A



“Given the poor commercial connections to many of its international destinations some of the Government’s senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been losing precious productive time in foreign airports waiting for commercial flights. In fact, the restrictive nature of air travel makes the executive jet travel proposal a most attractive alternative since it offers a level of flexibility demanded by governments and other executives. These circumstances have influenced the decision by CA to recommend to the shareholder the formation of a subsidiary company to operate such a service.”

Asked the same question a third time, the Minister made the above-quoted comment about court prosecutors and said, “I have answered your question.”

Asked by reporters if a feasibility study was done for the proposed multi-million dollar deal, he said, “I’ll read another line from the letter. Our preliminary analysis assumes 600 flight hours per year which will be guaranteed by the Government at a variable charter rate per hour which will provide CA with an annualised margin of ten percent.”

Asked again if a feasibility study was done, when and by whom, the Minister said, “I have given you the information.”

The Minister noted that Prime Minister Patrick Manning frequently uses a Guardian Holdings Limited jet to travel on foreign engagements and did so as recently as two weeks ago for his trip to Jamaica. Asked how much money the Government has spent on this service Imbert said, “I don’t have those details. I don’t have that information.”

He said CA proposed a shortlist of several jets including: the Bombardier Global XRS, the Gulf Stream 550, the Airbus ACJ, and a Boeing Business Jet. Bombardier was chosen, he said, because of the availability of a jet which had been intended for an unnamed American company.

After addressing reporters for roughly 45 minutes the Minister defended the Cabinet’s decision to approve the jet acquisition.

“The Prime Minister will be relying on executive jet services more and more as we go forward as we seek to make Trinidad and Tobago a developed country.”

He chatted with his colleagues, stroked his PNM tie and mingled with some reporters briefly before being whisked away through the halls of Whitehall.

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