Budget 2021 likely to cater for multimillion-dollar helicopter purchase from US
The Guyana Government is yet to make a final decision on whether it will go ahead with the purchase of the four Bell military helicopters that were approved for sale by the United States Department of Defence (DoD).
This is according to Public Works Minister Juan Edghill, during an interview with reporters on the sidelines on an event on Wednesday.
“At this stage, I don’t think we have a final decision. What is made known is that clearance is there [by the US] for that [purchase]. There is nothing in the 2020 Budget to facilitate that acquisition at this time,” he stated.
According to Minister Edghill, who had previously served as acting Finance Minister prior to Thursday’s appointment of a substantive Minister, monies are likely to be set aside in the 2021 Budget for this multi-million purchase if Cabinet greenlights the acquisition.
“So, look out for the next few months when the 2021 Budget comes out, you will hear something on if we’re going with that and how many we’re buying at a time – if all four at the same time,” he said.
The US DoD, colloquially known as the Pentagon, last week announced that it has approved the sale of the four Bell military helicopters, plus support equipment, as part of a US$256 million deal to Guyana to boost the country’s security system.
The Pentagon has pegged Guyana as growing to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in South America. As such, it noted that this sale would improve Guyana’s capability to meet current and future threats, which would in turn support the foreign policy and national security of the United States.
“Guyana will use the enhanced capability to strengthen its homeland defence; conduct maritime surveillance, patrol, and interdiction; counter narcotic trafficking and transnational criminal organisations; deter regional threats; and support coalition partners overseas. Guyana will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces,” the DoD said, adding that the sale would not alter the basic balance of military power in the Region.
According to the Department, the principal contractor will be Bell Helicopter Textron Incorporated (BHTI). It added that the quoted cost is the highest estimation of quantity and dollar value while the actual cost may be even lower depending on several factors, including Guyana’s requirements if and when the sales agreement is concluded.
Last November, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had announced that it would be selling an unserviceable Bell-412 helicopter that was down for almost 10 years, as part of its plans to upgrade its aircraft fleet.
Back in September 2017, Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Director General, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Egbert Field had cause to lament the deteriorated state of the GDF helicopters.
He had said at the time that Guyana did not have an adequate search-and-rescue helicopter, that there was no navigational aid at the main airport outside a certain radius, and that this risky situation has been ongoing for years without rectification.
“An important element of search and rescue, which is a helicopter in the event of a crash…I don’t know why the GDF equipment was allowed to deteriorate to the point where they do not have a serviceable helicopter for search and rescue – which is the Bell-412 helicopter,” Field had expressed.
Meanwhile, this potential transaction to sell the four military helicopters comes on the heels of Guyana and the United States signing a maritime patrol pact to guard against narcotics and other regional security threats. This signing was done in September 2020 when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Guyana.
President Dr Irfaan Ali had stated at the time that the maritime pact would allow for the improvement of technical and human capabilities in monitoring Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
That move, he noted, augurs well for stronger collaboration and broader technical assistance to help combat both domestic and transnational organised criminal networks.