Anthony Mwangi @PeopleDailyKe
A parliamentary committee was yesterday shocked to learn the Interior ministry has secretly bought four helicopters for the National Police Service Airwing at Sh4.6 billion.
National Assembly’s Administration and Security committee members stumbled on the information during an impromptu visit to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, where they learned that the copters are due in the country this morning from Italy and Canada. The purchase was not approved by the committee as required by law.
The choppers—two Agustawestland helicopters from Italy for VIPs and training purposes and two Bell choppers with a capacity of 15—are the latest acquisition and will bring the total number of Airwing’s fleet to 14.
Led by chairman and Kiambaa MP Paul Koinange, the committee also learned that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has threatened to withdraw the Airwing flying licence for failure to have aircraft and pilots insured.
Pressed by Koinange to explain why the aircraft were procured without the committee’s input, Airwing director Rodgers Mbithi said the procurement is normally done by ministry accounting officer, who is the Principal Secretary.
“Our role is to give the specifications and the technical aspects of the equipment. We play no role in the acquisition of the aircraft,” he told MPs.
Mbithi also narrated to the House steam the predicaments his department stares should KCAA withdraw its operating licence. “Our aircraft are not insured and that is the policy of the government,” he said.
A commission of inquiry that investigated a helicopter crash that killed former Internal Security minister George Saitoti, his assistant Orwa Ojode and four police officers five years ago faulted the Police Airwing shortcomings in training, safety management and airworthiness checks.
And although it had recommended that all Airwing pilots and engineers be insured for a capital sum of Sh15 million, it was never implemented.
The government in 2013 promised to provide government-funded insurance cover for all members of the disciplined forces and their families.
Mbithi also said two helicopters, one of them assigned to Boni Forest operation, had broken down and its engines would be taken to Czech Republic for repair.
Members were also concerned that Airwing cannot handle repairs for its aircraft despite contracting Kenya Wildlife Service for the same. Mbithi told the committee that the department did not have enough engineers.
The committee also learned that the Airwing is operated without a scheme of service to address the pilots and engineers plight in terms of promotions. Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu said the department should have its own scheme of service from that of the National Police Service.
“Our concern as a committee is that if the pilots are not given special interest there is a likelihood of losing them to private entities yet millions of shillings were spent to train them,” he said.