Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Defense Chief in Tiff with Transparency Panel
When last year's earthquake destroyed a bridge in Chile's Bio Bio region, the Defense Ministry pitched in by purchasing a temporary bridge for $16 million from a U.S. company. But a British rival complained that its $14 million bid should have won. So now, a government panel has taken Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet to task over the bridge. Ravinet's response: The bridge was a military purchase, entitled to secrecy, and he doesn't have to say anything about it to the government transparency committee. Ravinet took his argument one step further, threatening that if military acquisitions are laid bare, the armed forces will be reluctant to provide assistance in future natural disasters. While some generals politely disagreed with the minister, Ravinet has backed off a bit. He later said the issue is not the bridge, but keeping confidental the military purchases made with proceeds from the state-owned copper company. The dispute, thus, raises a political question: To what degree can a transparency panel force the military to disclose its bidding and acquisition process? UPDATE: Ravinet resigned on Thursday, Jan. 13. The No. 2 official in the ministry will take over on an interim basis.