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…Accounting Officer tells Committee: Force’s fleet of vehicles old, depleted
By Svetlana Marshall
Officials of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) called to answer questions by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday over a 2016 decision to repair a single vehicle at a cost of $8M.
In response, the Accounting Officer, Commander Vernon Burnett told the Committee that many of the Force’s vehicles are old, and require constant maintenance.
At the time, the GDF Officials were appearing before the Committee, chaired by A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament (MP) David Patterson, to respond to concerns raised in the Auditor General’s 2016 Report.
It was People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) MP, Dharamkumar Seeraj, who drew to the Committee’s attention that in 2016 the GDF spent $239.659M to repair and maintain 64 vehicles within the Force.
“It was also noted that the average cost to repair and maintain each vehicle was in excess of $3.744M and the highest amount paid for one vehicle was $8.531M,” a section of the Auditor General’s report stated.
Against that backdrop, Seeraj grilled the GDF Commander on the type of the vehicle and the magnitude of the repairs. The Commander, though not responding directly to the questions posed, told the Committee that the high cost associated with the maintenance of Force’s fleet of vehicles is of major concern to the GDF.
“Most of our fleet is really old but we don’t have enough vehicles to conduct the operations that we are required to do. As we speak, many of our commanders and senior staff officers are out of vehicles; all of their vehicles are being taken away and they have now been provided for operational duties on the borders and even on the coast. So it is indeed a fact that we have been spending a lot on maintenance of our fleet but we haven’t been replacing those vehicles, in a timely manner, and in quantities that we would like so as to allow us the opportunity to get rid of all of these [old] vehicles,” Commander Burnett explained.
But while the Commander sought to justify the millions of dollars spent in repairs, the PAC Members pressed him for more details, especially with regards to the type of the vehicle, the year purchased, and magnitude of the repairs done. At the time, the GDF Commander only indicated that the repairs involved a replacement of an engine.
However, with the help of the Auditor General Deodat Sharma, who was present, the PAC was informed that the vehicle – DFB 1530 – is a Bed 4 Ton Tipper Truck, which underwent repairs in every month of 2016.
According to the Auditor General, approximately $1.4M was spent in January, 2016 to repair the truck; in February, approximately $231,000; in March, approximately $1.738M; in April, $960,400; in May, $1.535M; in June, $824,250; in July, $943,200; in August, $10,000; in September, 236,800; in October, 379,500; in November, $75,800; and in December, $128,600 – a total of $8.5M.
A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) MP, Jermaine Figueira told the Committee that it is mind boggling that the Force would spend $8.5M to repair a single truck.
Weighing in on the matter, Government’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira asked the Commander to provide more details on the shortage of vehicles the Force experienced in 2016.
But again the Commander failed to answer the question posed. Instead, he told the PAC that ‘Operation Tempo’ took a toll on the GDF and its fleet after 2015.
“2015 coming back is when the operational tempo of the Force was raised; our exercises were much larger than it used to be. We had what was called forced exercises, everybody had to be exercise, the entire Force, the entire fleet, the entire People’s Militia was called out and that took a toll on our fleet, and that continued in 2015, in 2016, 2017. So operation tempo, training tempo was really raised in 2015,” he told the PAC.
The Commander, in response to another question, indicated that maintenance of the Force’s vehicles is done internally and externally based on the magnitude of the work required.
The GDF currently has 232 land vehicles.