There is no authorisation in the state budget for the sale of TF-SIF, the Coast Guard’s surveillance aircraft, the Chair of the Budget Committee told RÚV yesterday. The Minister of Justice has stated that his decision to discontinue the operations of TF-SIF was made in consultation with the Coast Guard.
No discussion taken place
In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, MP for the Left-Greens and Chair of the Budget Committee, stated that Justice Minister Jón Gunnarsson did not have the authorisation for the sale of TF-SIF, the Coast Guard’s only surveillance aircraft. According to Bjarkey, the budget authorises the purchase, or lease, of three rescue helicopters and the sale of an older helicopter, TF-LÍF. Bjarkey added that she was unhappy with the decision and the way that the Minister had gone about things, not least in light of the fact that no discussion had taken place within the Budget Committee.
“Authorisation is required, according to the sixth article of the law, in order to be allowed to sell these machines, and we may have reacted in a different way if we assumed that they were being sold – in discussions within the budget committee and discussions within Parliament – so I am not at all happy that some kind of authorisation is being requested afterwards, when the minister should do it beforehand,” Bjarkey remarked.
When asked if a minister could set a plan in motion without the required authorisation, as in this case, Bjarkey stated that such a thing was possible: “but of course, those plans may also collapse if the authorisation is not obtained; that’s the nature of these things.”
Bjarkey planned to convene the Budget Committee to discuss the matter yesterday and that she would request the presence of the Minister of Justice and the Coast Guard.
Consulted with the Coast Guard
Speaking to RÚV, the Minister of Justice maintained that the decision to discontinue the operations of TF-SIF was made in consultation with the Coast Guard. “We received a letter on December 18, in which various options to respond to the operational deficit were reviewed. It was believed that this would be the least damaging way forward, in terms of security considerations and other aspects of the Coast Guard’ operation, and would serve to fill the budgetary gap,” Jón Gunnarsson observed.
Preparations have begun to examine possible replacements for TF-SIF in the event of the sale. Jón stated that authorisation from Parliament to sell the plane has yet to be sought. “In other words, the intention was to announce that preparations would be started within the Coast Guard to sell the aircraft. We must then receive the authorisation from Parliament in order to carry out that sale. Meanwhile, we plan to have worked on future solutions in this regard, where we do not compromise the underlying security considerations,” Jón remarked. He added that it must be considered food for thought that the plane had never been recalled from missions in the southern seas over the recent years.
Important at the outer limits of Iceland’s jurisdiction
Kristín Jónsdóttir, geologist and Head of the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s Service and Research Department, told RÚV that the proposed sale was a big disappointment. “Because we’re talking about an aircraft that can help us in big moments. We are talking about critical events, such as the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The aircraft penetrates plumes of smoke and is capable of observing phenomena that can’t be detected with the naked eye. There will be volcanic eruptions in the future where we need this aircraft.”
The State Auditor’s report from last year also noted that the aircraft was particularly important at the outer limits of Iceland’s jurisdiction, RÚV reports. In such areas, searching for, and rescuing people from danger was only possible by way of planes or ships. The report also made mention of the plane’s unique features, that it is equipped with advanced radars and a thermal camera. Lifeboats can also be launched from TF-SIFT for those in distress.
Tempers run hot in Parliament
Yesterday morning, temperatures ran high among members of Parliament, RÚV notes, who expressed their displeasure with the Minister of Justice’s decision. The MPs unceremoniously broached the issue during discussions about the Speaker’s meeting management and complained that the decision had not been discussed much earlier.
“It’s unacceptable that the government’s fiscal policy leads to basic infrastructure, essential safety equipment, being sold so that other operations can be maintained,” Helga Vala Helgadóttir, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, observed.
Björn Leví Gunnarsson, MP for the Pirates, was likewise dissatisfied with the minister’s actions. “Was any MP present aware, when voting for the budget bill occurrred, that it would have these consequences? We don’t know what we’re agreeing to when we press the button because it’s not explicit.”
“It’s been observed how important the aircraft is, both for the safety of the citizens and for the Coast Guard’s security role: for search and rescue,” Sigmar Guðmundsson, MP for the Liberal Reform Party, commented. “It is quite unbelievable that the ruling parties did not discuss the matter with us.”