AN alarming €3 million bill for taxpayers for the lease of two helicopters in Chad that were unable to carry troops has now shot up to €4.3m, the Irish Examiner has learnt.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to seek answers as to why the botched helicopter contract for the African peacekeeping mission has soared.
The head of the Department of Defence, Michael Howard, attended a PAC meeting last month at which the State’s spending watchdog John Buckley said the contract cost €3m.
But the secretary general did not reveal the final cost had reached €4.3m.
Mr Howard said the original deal had been signed off on in a rush.
He said the deal with Air Partners to lease the two Russian Mi-8T helicopters had been extended from 10 to 16 months.
The contract included crew and maintenance at a cost of €2,100 per flight hour for a minimum of 120 hours per month plus additional war risk insurance.
Committee chairman Bernard Allen expressed surprise at the final figure which was not revealed to TDs. “It requires clarification and I intend to raise it with the committee.”
Defence Minister Willie O’Dea’s spokeswoman last night confirmed the final cost for the helicopters.
The helicopters were originally leased in May 2008 for 10 months.
By September and after their arrival in the Irish base in Goz Beida, eastern Chad, it emerged a “licensing issue” prevented their use carrying soldiers.
Despite the blunder in the contract, the department and army decided to extend the contract for an extra six months up until October this year.
This was while responsibility for the mission was being handed from the European Union to the United Nations.
The helicopter contract extension was decided after the UN had taken seven hours to airlift an injured Irish soldier who had broken his arm.
The contract terminated on October 26, but despite an original estimate of €3m, the final cost for taxpayers will be €4.3m.
The state’s spending watchdog John Buckley had found the contract was agreed without army internal approval procedures; without the Air Corps approval; without the appropriate procurement procedures and that it even breached certain contracting limits.
Mr Howard also admitted that only the paperwork for the helicopters before they arrived in Chad had been inspected and not the helicopters themselves.
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