I would like to thank in particular the Parliament for the fruitful discussions held today, as well as for the discussions on the bill held during the Standing Committee.
The Alternate Minister and I tried to incorporate a in the bill number of the remarks made by the institutions and the parties and the MPs, which will soon be ready for adoption.
The bill settles a number of issues of the Ministry of National Defence, with the establishment of new institutions such is “ The Internal Affairs Agency” presenting the opportunity to Officers to serve up to their 58th year of age, if they wish so. It also settles older issues concerning injustices against the personnel, with amendments which resulted through dialogue, which settle many matters of the Ministry of National Defence.
Before I talk about the bill allow me to say a few things – since a lot has been written even today - about the infamous procurement of the F-16 aircraft, I literally did not expect such a misunderstanding to occur, since the Press and some specific journalists are trying to present a situation which has nothing to do with reality.
Previously I talked about the article written by Mr. Elias Kanellis, on signing an agreement with the USA concerning the overrated – as became obvious during the Parliament discussions- upgrade of the aircraft and then he mentions the Military Cadets clad in their uniforms.
The Golden Dawn Party, Mr. Kanellis and the specific Press Group share these kind of opinions. Unfortunately, however, I realized that that some colleagues read the newspaper front pages which are naturally affected by those who have interest in the agreement.
Let’s make it clear, there is no agreement. Of course there is no agreement.
Mr. Koumoutsakos, on September the 20th your colleagues from New Democracy, members of the Armament Programs Committee participated in a classified meeting. We wanted it to be classified, there were no phones inside, in order to share information concerning the armament programs of the country which is secret.
Right then and there – I am officially stressing this before the Parliament – it became clear that what we have right now is a Letter of Request, a LoR, which is addressed to the US government and in the context of an inter-governmental agreement - which does not include mediators – we are asking them to name the cost for the upgrade of the total of, or part of, our F-16 fleet .
Simultaneously, another letter is addressed to the US Government , asking for the availability and prices for the new F-35 aircraft.
In reply to the letter of request, we were briefed by the US side that they will answer with a LoA, which will of course come to the Armaments Committee - as I promised – this is the procedure – on the 3rd of November, and will give us the details concerning the prices and accurate description of the upgrade concerning either the F16 Block 52 plus type or the F16 Block 52 Plus Advance type.
The Letter of Request concerned 123 aircraft, on which the US side –as is the procedure before the company answers to us - has asked the Congress for an approval which will trigger the negotiations. This approval concerns the total of the123 aircraft, namely the Block 30, the Block 50, the Block 52 plus and Block 52 Plus Advance, which amounts to 2,4 billion Euro.
As I clarified to the Parliament Armaments Committee during the 20th Sept session, our capabilities in the context of the implementation of the specific budget cannot exceed a payment of 100 million Euro per year, with the roof being 1.1 billion Euro or dollars. As a matter of fact I had not specified if it would be in dollars or Euro. Right now I am telling you that we are talking about dollars.
So, during our visit to the USA, we discussed the matter of the F-16 upgrade and we stated that we are awaiting the LoA, which is the answer of the US part concerning the upgrade. The President Trump side stated that they would gladly approve the upgrade for the total of the 123 aircraft and that the whole upgrade will possibly amount to 2.4 billion, which is a price beyond our reach, since will do not have such financial flexibility. If we could afford such a price it would be preferable for us to spend it on new aircraft.
Concerning the US talks, the Prime-Minister is the one to fill you in. We did not go there to make a deal on the F16s. We travelled to the USA so that the Prime Minister could meet with Greek-Americans, businessmen, funds, people who are investing in Greece. No one - SYRIZA, INDEPENDENT HELLENES, nor the US Ambassador can deny the success of our trip. The foreign financial press wrote about an interest to invest in Greece.
Apart from the meeting with President Trump, other meetings were held with the Vice-President Mr. Pence, and as a matter of fact we agreed that the delegation to attend the Thessaloniki International Exhibition– dedicated to the USA - this year it was dedicated to China , last year to Russia – will be even bigger since it will include many US Enterprises with an interest to invest in Greece.
Apart from the investments we discussed our cooperation at geostrategic level as you call it. Of course the position of the country is upgraded. It is a given that Greece is a pillar of stability in the wider region, linked with bilateral relation in the South with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Emirates , and in the North with Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.
The Prime-Minister also discussed - at staff members’ level – the synergies and the US investments , as well as the interest expressed in matters of energy, pipes and drilling of natural gas and oil.
“Exxon” has official submitted a request to participate in all this. All these negotiations are positive for Greece, not for Alexis Tsipras or this Government, but for Greece.
It is the first time since 1994 that a Greek Government has been received under such conditions, when Andreas Papandreou visited the USA and Blair House hosted the whole Greek delegation. Even the Democrats were positive, we met the senators, the Committee dealing with funding countries, and we told them that if they truly believe that our country should be a stability pillar , we do not have the fiscal capabilities and we are also asking for the reinforcement of our country with weapons – which are used as military assistance.
All this started on the grounds of a grid of negotiations, nothing being a given. We will begin with the offer for the upgrade of the F-16s with the commitment of the Government that it will amount to maximum 1.1 billion. My personal belief is that it will be below 700-800 Million Euro.
Let me give you a clue, the prices offered go hand in hand with the requesting country. Meaning that the prices for Korea and Bahrain - you can check them out on the internet since they are released there – are lower by ¼.
What matters is what will be included in the agreement, which I cannot reveal right now. I will reveal such information to the Armaments Committee. You are all welcome to come to the Ministry and talk about this, because I will not openly release such information.
We trust our Armed Forces Staffs. They are the ones doing the negotiations, not me the Minister. We, being a political authority provide to them the upper limit, and they decide.
However, let me reassure you that it is unfair to put a name on the whole trip simply because some people may have interests and may benefit from such a contract.
Another thing is that a lot has been said on the offset benefits etc. The substantial offset benefits of the past no longer exist. What are we after? What have we asked so far of them in view of the so called offset benefits?
The first thing is the operation of the Hellenic Defence Industry, meaning to assign most of the project to the Hellenic Defence Industry, the materiel will be procured from Greek private companies and from that moment on what could be an offset benefit could be for example the Hellenic Navy Sikorsky engines, represented by the same company which will make the offer for the F-16s upgrade.
Allow me to add that not even the company to perform the F-16s upgrade is a given. We will have an intergovernmental agreement with the USA, but tomorrow the USA may decide that the F-16 upgrade, since it is an intergovernmental agreement may be performed by other companies.
Lockheed is the one we are after. However, Boeing made an offer as well. This is not ours to decide. This will be decided by the Americans, they will send us their offers. This is why this is a “G to G Agreement”. Of course there will not be training offsets in Korea, or anything in the field of bribery.
My personal opinion is that if the price was to be very low which would save us some money, which we are in need of, there should not be any offsets. Were the Sikorsky Helicopters to be built at a lower cost, then no offsets would be necessary. This is the truth, and this concludes the matter of the F-16 aircraft.
Dear colleagues, whatever has been said in the Armaments Committee is valid, and it is official. When we receive the LoA in the beginning of November, the Committee will have a session again and you will all be briefed on everything and we will jointly decide following the proposal of the Staffs.
This is the procedure the Law provides for. No agreement has taken place so far and we haven’t had any secret talks, neither will we do anything to harm the country.
As far as the bill is concerned many remarks have been made concerning the Internal Affairs Agency . Let me get this straight, what has been said by Mr. Loverdos, that the Independent Authority of the Hellenic Accounting and Auditing Standards Oversight Board, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Greece and the Audit Professors, like Mr. Filos , whose letter we have just received, have already agreed and have congratulated us on the Establishment of the Agency of Internal Affairs. The fact that the Legal Service has not commented on the articles does not mean that they disagree, on the contrary, they agree. When the Scientific Committee of the Parliament disagrees then they comment.
As far as the subjection of the Service is concerned, if you read article 12, parag. 5, subparagraph b’, along with article 11, para 5 of b’ subpara, the Internal Affairs is monitored by the Court of Cassation Prosecutor and cooperates with the Public Prosecuting Authorities. According to article 12, para 5, subpara b’, it performs audits under the auspices of the Military Prosecutor.
It says that it is directly subordinate to the Ministry for its establishment. Let me explain why: according to law 2713/1999, the Internal Affairs Agency of the Hellenic Police is subordinate to the Hellenic Police Chief. If it was subordinate to the HNDGS Chief it would not be able to monitor the Ministry Agencies.
As far as I am concerned, the General Armaments Dte should be monitored. So, the General Armaments Dte is not in the HNDGS Chief Organizational Chart. It belongs to the Ministry. The first thing I told them when the Internal Affairs Agency was established was that they should first check my office. They should be authorized to even check the Minister.
The fact that it is subordinate to the Minister has nothing to do with it being monitored, since it is not monitored by the Minister but it is directly monitored by the Military Prosecutor. This happens this way to secure its independence and this way the Agencies of the Ministry can be monitored.
As a matter of fact I can provide to you data from the Police Legal Information Database, so that you may see the difference for yourselves.
I would like to add that they have done a great job. Up to this moment 19 cases from the General Armaments Agency have been taken by the Subordinate Internal Affairs Agency to the Corruption Public Prosecution. Nine officers have been appointed to work with the Corruption Prosecutor and help with managing older armaments cases.
Thus, all cases opened and the investigations began and half weapons traders are wearing “tourist wristbands”, because if the officers of the Internal Affairs Agency who are handling the case did not have direct access to the General Armaments Agency then we would not have been able to move on with the cases, which were had been stuck at the Corruptions Prosecution Agency for years.
Another thing is that in our effort to help the work of the Corruption Prosecution, because they did not have any computers, we bought them computers and servers to facilitate their work.
Also, whenever specialized personnel is required the Ministry of National Defence contributes with the Internal Affairs Agency. That is, an armoured vehicle or an aircraft cannot exactly know what peculiarities its spare –parts might have.
This is why the Internal Affairs Agency is established. Rest assured that this Agency is established for the benefit of the transparency of the MoD.
Additionally, I paid attention to the colleagues who mentioned the decision reached by the State Council, on the pensions and other related matters.
Allow me to say that as far as outstanding amounts are concerned – they will be paid off by the end of the year, as always. The same applies to the benefits for those serving in borderline areas, they will be paid off as always by the end of the year.
Also, we will make sure that as far as the retirement lump sum is concerned it will be given, too, by the end of the year. We did not deliver the pensions to the Ministry of Labour, the previous Governments did. If only the pensions status was in our hands.
As far as who is supporting the contracts or not, all I have to say is that somebody should restrain Mr. Kyrtsos. He nearly spilled the beans on us, in the EU, because we did not buy Eurofighter and Mirage aircraft. So, somebody stop Mr. Kyrtsos, for the benefit of all.