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Forestry department denies getting cheated over helicopters

ÁÓÊÇÓÇ ÅÐÉ×ÅÉÑÇÓÉÁÊÇÓ ÅÔÏÉÌÏÔÇÔÁÓ ÃÉÁ ÁÍÔÉÌÅÔÙÐÉÓÇ ÐÕÑÊÁÃÉÙÍ

The Department of Forests denied on Monday that it got a raw deal in relation to the leasing of two firefighting helicopters, after a local newspaper published fresh allegations about the affair hinting at incompetence at best, and corruption at worst.

The department was responding to the latest coverage about the two choppers, with daily Politis – tracking the story for months – saying that taxpayers paid a fortune for the lease contract concluded by the ministry of agriculture, responsible for the Department of Forests.

Last week Politis published documents showing that the lease cost €3.2 million, whereas the total operational flight time for both helicopters came to 68 hours. The paper concluded that the cost per flight hour worked out to a whopping €47,000.

The two Russian-made Kamov helicopters – leased from a Ukrainian company – arrived in Cyprus in late July, and began operating in August. The contract signed was for four months.

Earlier this year, the Department of Forests had been scrambling to secure at least two additional firefighting aircraft in order to meet minimum requirements in time for the coming summer season.

In a curt statement responding to the latest claims, the department said the newspaper had got its calculations wrong because of flawed assumptions.

What the daily has done, it pointed out, is take the total cost and divide it by the number of flight hours, in this way coming up with a number that appears excessively high.

In reality, the cost per flight hour stipulated in the lease contract came to €3600 per flight hour. What the newspaper failed to understand, is that the total cost is the sum of flight hours plus the cost of keeping the helicopters on standby.

“This calculation [by the newspaper] was done in order to present the cost per flight hour as being high, for sensationalistic purposes. The helicopters flew for the hours that they needed to fly,” the department noted.

It also panned Politis for apparently not grasping the distinction between who received the two helicopters (the Department of Forests) and who had operational control (the Fire Service).

Denying any mismanagement of public funds, the department went on to call for a thorough investigation to be carried out by the auditor-general’s office. But this investigation, it added markedly, should likewise look into whether certain media outlets are “carrying water” for financial interests who had lost out in the tender competition for the helicopters.

The Audit Office has said it is investigating the matter of the helicopters and will be issuing a report.

Politis had earlier reported that the tender procedures smacked of suspicious dealings, including awarding the lease contract despite the absence of basic documentation such as insurance expressly covering firefighting. The Department of Forests again refuted these allegations.

 

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