In four years, this agency spent 581 million U.S. dollars in the United States, using intermediaries and avoiding Colombian regulations.

EL TIEMPO, September 28, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Millions paid in advance for the frustrated purchase of a Turbo Jet Cessna CJ3/Cj4 airplane, that was initially welcomed; a lawsuit in United States courts against vendors of equipment that was delivered with defects; and the acquisition of a ship for the Navy, costing 14 million U.S. dollars, that remains useless; these have a common element.

All of these acquisitions were made by the Colombian Air Force Purchasing Agency, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, an exotic office attached to Colombia’s Defense Ministry. It makes key purchases for the Colombian Army, Navy, and Air Force, outside of Colombia’s contracting regulations.

In just the last four years it has sealed 1,988 contracts for more than 580 million dollars, without observing Colombia’s Statute 80 or our contracting laws and placed under the laws of Florida.

And even though the functioning of this practically unknown agency is shielded by Decree 0952 of 1953, its acquisitions, personnel costs, and vendors are starting to generate a number of questions among experts in the Defense and Security section of Colombia’s Comptroller General’s Office.

In fact, even though the agency was created 65 years ago (1953), for the first time, and by order of the current Comptroller Felipe Córdoba, an assigned team studied the contracts and even the personnel costs at the Florida headquarters, which, among other things, receives commissions for services and installation expenses.

The interest in Acofa and its contracts was precipitated by the discovery of some irregularities in purchases and acquisitions, defaults in performance of contracts for more than 10,000 million pesos (about USD 2,590,000), vendor penalties that were never charged, and even payoffs to supposedly exclusive vendors of property and services.

Even though there are anomalies in just a handful of the contracts that were reviewed, in some cases there was a fiscal, disciplinary, and even criminal scope, as in the case of the 14 million dollar ship. That is still in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office and is calling attention to active officials.

Juicy commissions

Twenty days ago, EL TIEMPO reported the case of the ship. We had access to the sectorial study made of Acofa and in the study, the Comptroller’s team, headed by Sebastián Montoya, expressed serious doubts about the powerful purchasing agency.

First, he pointed out that many of the acquisitions that the agency moves forward are carried out through brokers, whose main role is to act as intermediaries, in exchange for a commission.

Fifty brokers appear on the list of vendors. Besides that, of the 1,589 contracts that were signed by the Colombian Air Force (FAC), 43% were with brokerage businesses and only 27% were with manufacturers or their vendors.

“The principal contracts are not made with manufacturers or with exclusive distributors, but rather with intermediaries. We believe that probably those brokers could come to Colombia with the purpose of doing it within the framework of Statute 80 and thus not being governed by Florida law where the Colombian government is just another contracting party,” explained the team leader.

Besides that, Montoya says that the Comptroller General is trying to understand if the agency is using the system that was created for the acquisition of certain property that can’t be obtained in Colombia or that is required immediately.

The reason: even though the majority of the contracts are related to aviation, they found purchases of tire lubricants and even training courses for personnel.

“We wonder if actually this agency is the best way to acquire these goods and services,” team leader Montoya told EL TIEMPO.

The high number of orders for aircraft like the King B-300, of which there exist only 9 units in operation, the Boeing C-40, in which there exist two units, the Boeing 727, of which there is only one unit, and the C-130 Hercules, of which 4 units exist, also attracts attention, when equipment like the Black Hawk helicopters, of which there are 24 units, or the T-90 Calima, with 23 units, had fewer orders.

And how Statute 80 isn’t being applied to Acofa, when the majority of the contracts are direct and short. “What in Colombia is an exception, is the routine there.”

The team leader’s doubts

The costs of the functioning of the agency are another relevant point. The agency costs this country nearly 6,000 million pesos (about USD 1,600,000) annually, and the largest cost is for the Acofa personnel that remain in Fort Lauderdale. According to the Comptroller’s Office, this is 42% of the agency’s budget.

How do they select the personnel that are sent to Florida? Are the irregularities in the purchases that don’t adhere to the agency’s mission being investigated internally? Are they thinking about whether the agency is necessary at all, or about making an adjustment?

EL TIEMPO is transmitting these questions to the Commander of the Colombian Air Force (FAC), General Ramsés Rueda, who announced that the Comptroller General has now finished the investigation of Acofa, and the conception of the investigation was favorable. But the team leader for Defense and Security, Sebastián Montoya, insists on pointing out the doubts.

And he adds that, in addition, they found a reduction in the number of contracts in recent years, which means that Acofa is doing less and less but continues charging the same amount to the treasury.

“We hope that the study by the sector will help the FAC to re-evaluate and refocus certain aspects of the agency, so as to comply with the purpose for which it was created,” specified Montoya.

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