Against public opinion

By Raffique Shah
March 09, 2008

Manning And The JetWhen the furore over government owning an executive jet first erupted last year, I was among the very few persons who saw nothing wrong with it, and I wrote as much. I argued then that the Prime Minister could be likened to the CEO of an oil rich country, except that his responsibilities were far greater, and that right here in Trinidad and Tobago there were several conglomerates that owned such aircraft. Indeed, across the world, most governments own, or have assigned to them, aircraft ranging from small executive jets to huge jumbo-jets.

I still hold that position. But like most people, I did not cater for the ‘gobar’ coming from Prime Minister Patrick Manning, his Cabinet colleagues and board members and executives of Caribbean Airlines (CA) last week. From the moment the proposed purchase was confirmed, I wondered if CA’s chairman Arthur Lok Jack, normally an astute businessman, had gone mad. Or if Colm Imbert, who has emerged as government’s chief spokesperson, had again stuck his head so deep in darkness, he could not distinguish polyps from tulips.

Here’s the crap these men want to sell us. CA insists there’s a huge, untapped market out there for executive jets as large as, and with the range of a US Air Force B-52 bomber. The truth is there are numerous companies in North America and Europe that offer such services. NetJets, the most prominent, boasts not only the biggest fleet in the world, but that it can pick up and fly “the discerning customer” anywhere in the world. Its services are used by movie stars, high-flying sportsmen-and yes, prime ministers.

Now, CA is catching hell to stay in the skies, having morphed from a debt-ridden BWIA to state-subsidised airline that cut its trans-Atlantic routes and is currently confined to the Caribbean and North America.

Because of the many cutbacks it has implemented, including scrimping on cabin services and on staff, CA may just break even, or make a small profit in its first year of operations. In such circumstances, I imagine Lok Jack and company will be more than happy to get a gift-plane costing taxpayers over $300 million, with a guaranteed number of flying hours (double-payment by taxpayers).

But both Manning and Lok Jack know that to have such a luxurious aircraft is dependent on other customers chartering it. Do they seriously believe our poor Caribbean neighbours can afford this super-luxury? These fellas can’t even keep LIAT in the skies. So where are the customers coming from? Among our local cultural and sporting stars, not even Brian Lara would blow his hard earned money on that. And if Lok Jack and a few friends want to blow his millions flying around the Caribbean or wherever, he’d opt instead for Guardian Holdings’ executive jet. Incidentally, I think Lok Jack is chairman of Guardian.

So let’s cut the crap, fellas. Admit that you have all fainted from your foul emissions. You don’t need an executive jet that can fly 50 freeloaders from here to Timbuktu. A 12-seater Lear or Gulfstream, costing a fraction of the one Bombardier is palming off on us, will be just right, as ‘Sprang’ would say. Without doing a feasibility study, I can say that 75 per cent of the travel that government officials undertake lies between Brazil and Canada. Any of these smaller but comfortable aircraft can zip you there in a flash. You need to go to Moscow to talk gas with Putin’s successor? Hire a NetJets plane, and you’d be there on time, at much less cost than this Bombardier monstrosity. Africa? No Problem- NetJets. And no, I am not an agent for that company.

Another very pertinent point: almost every country in which the government owns aircraft, they are flown and overseen by members of their Defence Force. It’s the point I made when I heard that the PM had contracted his private security to some company. Sure, in the case of the executive jet, it would need to stay at Piarco. But so will TTDF personnel assigned to guard, service and staff the plane. Only in Belarus does the national airline manage the government’s private aircraft. And, Mr. Lok Jack, only Lufthansa among big airline companies operates an executive jet service.

Just to give readers a peep into the stratosphere of executive-flyers, the Sultan of Brunei (who was at Sandhurst in my time, one year behind me) owns two Boeing jumbos, two Airbus passenger jets, and four Gulfstream executive jets. Agentina, big as it is, owns a paltry Boeing 757 and two Fokkers. And lest you think Patos gone mad, check this: the late, notorious Mobotu Sese Seko of Zaire was the only head of state to charter a supersonic Concorde!

So let the government have its executive jet. But be modest about what we buy. And transparent. Ostentation is not something to be tolerated in a society still riddled with poverty.

March 10, 2008

Caribbean Airlines Family Day ‘grounded’
CARIBBEAN AIRLINES (CA) First Anniversary Family/Open Day celebrations failed to come off yesterday as controversy continues to swirl around the airline’s plans to acquire a Bombardier Global XRS jet for an executive jet service.

More ‘jet lag’ in Parliament
ALTHOUGH the Senate is supposed to debate the Basel Convention Bill 2008 when it sits tomorrow at 1.30 pm, more questions are expected to be raised by the Opposition UNC Alliance about plans by Caribbean Airlines (CA) to acquire an executive jet for its proposed private jet service.

Private jet takes PM to Bahamas 4 hours faster

Abdulah wants answers on RBTT sale, private jet
He said, FITUN had noticed several inter-locking relationships, including the fact that Arthur Lok Jack was chairman of Caribbean Airlines Limited and also a Director of RBTT.

Jamaica PM supports State-owned private jet
Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding says he supports the idea of a State owned-airline offering a private jet service to Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders like himself and Prime Minister Patrick Manning, as long as it was saving the taxpayers money.

5 thoughts on “Against public opinion”

  1. Was the money for the jet included in last year’s or this year’s Budget? If not – why? I thought these Budget readings are supposed to be an open book for the nation to see where and how our money is being spent.

    One can’t just “sweep” 300 million under the carpet, or pull it out of a hat. Where is this money coming from within the protocol of the given budget? Or is there another budget – one that the public does not see?

  2. not often I can say that I agree with Raffique. But he brings up some good points here.
    The problem I have is the same as Raffique, why not a cheaper alternative?

    The difference between Patrick and Basdeo is that Panday hide and thief, then lie and Patrick does lie, then thief in front people face. I suppose it’s because PNM was in power so much longer that they have the thiefing down to an art where as the UNC are just amatures…that’s why they get caught. Who remembers when NAR came into power, how much bobol they uncover in the construciton of the Eric Williams Medical Complex?

  3. At this point in the debate to acquire a jet or not to acquire a jet is not the question.What is even more disturbing here is the duplicitous manner in which the government has slipped this information to the public.They have conspired to cover up their true intentions by dishonestly involving and coercing Caribbean airlines into this plot.Initial denials by Imbert were later moderated in the House and finally, to add insult to injury, the new “before the courts”, unelected recruit in the Ministry, Mr Brown,casually announced that he approved the funds to purchase Manning’s jet.This government has undertaken some excellent initiatives, but this is not one of them!

  4. The Head hunter is being hunted now. Mr. Manning the shoe is on the other foot You were after Mr. Panday for money in London ,well let,s see now you took the people,s tax money to buy a jet for your personal use noooooo..How does it feel to be the hunted now nice feeling eh?. Let,s see you wiggle your way out of this one.

    Waiting and watching patiently
    Trini living in NYC.

  5. all the gov’t doing is wasting people money buying expensive cars and aircraft, for himself. the gov’t needs to change…

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