The Situation Report
30th May 1999
Body armour as shoddy as the deal
By Iqbal Athas
A nearly two year long effort by the Sri Lanka Army to procure 3,000 pieces of Body Armour for soldiers has again ended in a fiasco.
A British supplier who won the tender in January, this year, shipped the consignment to Colombo on April 10. Tests were carried out on eight randomly selected pieces, at the Commando Regiment Headquarters at Ganemulla. Three pieces failed the test and Army officials now say they cannot accept the consignment unless the supplier accepts fresh conditions.
Ironically these conditions include an unprecedented demand, one that has not been observed at any time in the past by the Sri Lanka Army or for that matter by any Army in the world.
In a fax signed by an officer on behalf of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and dated May 20, the local agent has been told:
“INFORM THE SUPPLIER TO PROVIDE A CERTIFICATE OF GUARANTEE TO THE EFFECT THAT IN THE EVENT OF AN INJURY TO A SOLDIER DUE TO THE FAILURE OF BODY ARMOUR COMPENSATION WILL BE PAID BY THE SUPPLIER BASED ON THE NATURE OF THE INJURY.”
There was no official explanation as to why such an unusual and unprecedented guarantee has been sought. But it makes it quite clear that no action has been intended, leave alone initiated, against the supplier in question, though to use the Army’s own words ‘it is noted that 3 out of 8 randomly selected plates has failed the wet test and cannot be accepted the consignment (sic).’ This is after Army’s own test has cast doubts on the quality of the Body Armour.
One senior Army officer concerned with procurement spoke on the assurance that he is not identified. According to him, the request for a guarantee for ‘compensation’ has been made since ‘we are not sure whether all 3,000 pieces are in good order. Even if one goes wrong, we want to make the supplier responsible’ Asked whether there was no procedure to ensure only a quality product is procured, he replied ‘well, that’s not my decision. That has already been made.”
In no other procurements has the Sri Lanka Army sought any guarantee from a foreign supplier to pay compensation to soldiers if their products were found to be unsuitable.
The Body Armour is for use by soldiers in the battlefront, the men and women who are braving all odds to keep the Tiger guerrillas at bay. It is no secret that there were instances in the ongoing separatist war where the lives of many who died could have been saved if they were issued Body Armour. Similarly those who were maimed could have lived normal lives if they wore them.
The need for Body Armour became more acute after the launch of the now abandoned ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’ (Victory Assured) led to very heavy casualty counts, both dead and injured. The ongoing censorship, which will be an year old next week, prevents the publication of casualty counts. This was how the need for 3,000 pieces were assessed by military planners.
The Sri Lanka Army’s demand for a ‘guarantee’ from a foreign supplier that ‘in the event of an injury to a soldier due to the failure of Body Armour, compensation will be paid’ raises more serious questions that it simplistically seems to answer. How does one determine the cost to be paid to a soldier if he is injured, or for that matter dies, due to poor quality Body Armour ? Can any officer or officers be empowered, on behalf of the Sri Lanka Army, to seek such payments from a supplier as ‘compensation’ for a soldier who is injured because a poor quality product could not protect his life ? Should it not be the other way around?
Should not the officer or officers be both committed and concerned in procuring Body Armour that would not pose any injury or death threat to the soldiers ? Even if it is furthest from their intentions, does this not amount to an insult on the soldiers themselves, the men and women who are the real heroes of this war ? Was the request to seek a ‘guarantee’ from the foreign supplier to ‘pay compensation’ taken with the knowledge of the Ministry of Defence and the Army hierarchy ? These and a number of other questions beg answers, more importantly because they concern the valuable lives of the nation’s soldiers.
The tests on three out of eight ‘randomly selected plates’ were carried out by a senior Army officer - Brigadier Nalin Fernando, who now commands the Commando Brigade. He was also a member of a Committee then Overall Operations Commander - OOC Major General (and the present Commander of the Army) appointed to evaluate the procurement of Body Armour. This led to the award being made to British supplier in question.
The Army Headquarters fax message to the local agent of
the British supplier, besides demanding a ‘certificate of guarantee to the effect that in the event of an injury to a soldier due to the failure of Body Armour compensation will be paid by the supplier based on the nature of the injury’, also laid down two other conditions. They are: “inform the supplier to replace the plates with new plates which meets the required specifications”.(sic) “inform the supplier to replace the jackets marked with ‘SMALL’ with either ‘LARGE’ or ‘EXTRA LARGE’ jackets”.(sic)
The deal to procure 3,000 pieces of Body Armour, for which world-wide tenders were first called in mid 1997, has been studded with controversial issues and procedural wrangles. The British supplier won the award after their local agent protested over rival suppliers on grounds that included a claim that some offers did not meet requirements set by the Army. The protests were made directly to an Army officer and not to the Ministry of Defence or the Army Commander. The move saw an Australian supplier who was recommended by a Technical Evaluation Committee being rejected. A new process that began after the protest culminated with the protesting local agent’s British principals winning the order.
Details of the origins of this procurement deal and how it came to be awarded to the British firm in question were exclusively reported in these columns (Situation Report-January 17) under the headline ‘Body Armour: heads clash.’ There was official silence on the revelations made. However, the only known reaction was from the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lieutenant General Srilal Weerasooriya, one who was also conversant to a large extent about the purchase of 3,000 pieces of Body Armour. He ordered an immediate probe, not to ascertain whether there were any irregularities, procedural or otherwise.
It was a Military Police team to probe how details relating to this procurement deal reached The Sunday Times. Both uniformed and civilian staff at Army Headquarters were questioned and their statements recorded. And today, The Sunday Times reveals the latest developments in a saga that continues to raise grave questions about procurement procedures-a subject which has become a matter of serious concern for President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. In the recent months, she has been personally examining details of major procurement contracts and raising queries on funds to be expended. At least two major deals involving hundreds of million rupees are still under close scrutiny. The cost of the Body Armour deal is said to be over US dollars 1.1 million or over Rs 76 million.
Here are detailed excerpts from SITUATION REPORT of January 17, 1999, which gives the background of the protracted deal to procure 3,000 pieces of Body Armour.
‘World-wide tenders were called. They were opened on
October 3, 1997. Twelve bidders participated actively. There were five from United Kingdom, two from Australia, two from Israel and one each from USA, India and Canada.
‘The Ministry of Defence appointed a three member Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) to examine the offers. It was headed by Major General Jaliya Nammuni, who was Operations Commander, Colombo, until his retirement last year.
‘There were two military and two civilian officials ñ Colonel C.J. Kottachi, Lt. Cmdr. K.A.D. Kulatunga, H. Navarathna and U.L. Lokuhetty.
‘A TEC is normally the body which lays down the specifications for proposed equipment purchase prior to calling of tenders.
“This same body also compares tenderer’s bid specifications to ensure that tenders are within the military requirements.
‘The TEC does not generally concern itself with the financial aspects of the tender as that is the function of the Tender Board itself. The responsibility of the TEC is to keep the Tender Board informed of the technical suitability or otherwise of the tendered equipment and, if requested, to enumerate them in accordance with their degree of suitability.
‘The TEC studied the ‘specifications for light weight Body Armour where the ‘Ballistic Capability’ was required to meet ‘National Institute of Justice (NIJ)’ USA standard. It observed that none of the certificates issuing agencies is classified under the Jane’s International Defence Directory 1996 and pointed out that the ‘tenderers cannot be accepted’ in terms of criteria laid down by the Ministry of Defence.
‘The TEC sent its report to the Ministry of Defence through the then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte. This is what the TEC went on to say:
‘A study of the NIJ certificates submitted, revealed that only 03 tenderers have offered signed original laboratory test certificates or covering letters not having reference numbers.
‘Under these circumstances the TEC recommended by letter..dated 09 December, 1997, to either do a practical field testing of the samples in place of NIJ certificate or the acceptance of NIJ certificates as they have been submitted. By MOD (Ministry of Defence) letter dated 7 Jan 1998 directions were received for practical field testing of the samples in place of NIJ certificates.
‘Since there were no guidelines available in Sri Lanka on the field testing of Body Armour, the TEC sought the assistance of Lt. Col. D. Rajasinghe (Retd.) of Sri Lanka Army and presently the coach of the National Olympic shooting committee who has an excellent knowledge of the subject matter to draw up a testing procedure to be adopted in the field testing of Body Armour.... The TEC had a discussion on this document...and decided to accept it as the standard testing procedure.
‘The practical field testing was conducted on 24 April, 1998 at the Panaluwa Army small arms range.
‘Eleven tenderers who submitted samples were invited for the field testing.
‘The TEC said: “ Before the commencement of the firing all the representatives were briefed on the preparations that were made...Order of testing was on lots drawn. When Lot 01 was tested, representatives for Lot 2 were allowed as observers and this procedure was adhered to till last when Lot 01 was the observer. At the end of each testing the authorised representative was shown the live firing results sheet and their observations were obtained...”
‘An Australian supplier and a UK supplier (not the final awardee) were shortlisted for final selection. Later, the TEC held that the Australian offer conformed to specifications (sans protection from sides) and listed the UK supplier as ‘marginally acceptable.’
There were reports of a second Technical Evaluation Committee of four members. How they came to be appointed, what their recommendations and whether they were unanimous is not clear. But newer developments began after the British supplier’s local agent (who later won the tender) raised issue.
This is what Situation Report of January 17 said:
‘The agents for another British supplier wrote a letter of protest to Brigadier S. R. Balasuriya, Director of Operations at Army Headquarters, against the TEC recommendation to award it to an Australian supplier.
‘This is a strange course of action by the rejected supplier. His representative was present at the time of field testing of these jackets and should there have been any complaint, one assumes that it should have been made immediately to the Chairman of the TEC. On the other hand, even if the tenderer was to make a complaint, the logical source to which it should have been addressed was the Ministry of Defence, the Army Commander, Chairman of the Tender Board, Chairman of the Technical Evaluation Committee, Master General Ordinance or Director, Logistics.
‘It is indeed unusual that the tenderer should have addressed his complaint to Brigadier Balasuriya, Director, Operations at Army Headquarters. This unusual procedure becomes curioser and curioser when that letter is also endorsed by the unsuccessful supplier as being for the attention of Brigadier Balasuriya, who was then Director Operations. He is now attached to the Joint Operations Bureau (JOB) as Director, Operations.
‘The logical course of action on the receipt of that letter by Brigadier Balasuriya, military officials conversant with procurements say, should have been the reference to the source concerned with procurements ñ Master General Ordnance or Director Logistics. Instead, Brigadier Balasuriya made his own observations on this letter and forwarded it to then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte.
‘What is significant here is that it was at this point that a whole new process of re-evaluating this non-technical piece of protective wear took a new turn. It took another six months. Not only did that extend the lead time for procurement of essentially needed equipment when ‘Operation Jaya Sikurui’ was halted south of Mankulam to regain its momentum. The decision to re-evaluate this equipment also impacted on the decision of the TEC headed by Major General Nammuni.
‘Angered by this, Maj. Gen. Nammuni, addressing the then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte (through the Director General General Staff- DGGS) had this to say:
“TEC made representations to the Secretary Defence through the Commander of the Army to disregard the NIJ certificate submitted by the supplier. The reasons were given in detail. This was accepted by the Commander of the Army. Ops (Directorate of Operations) is also well aware of this. Secretary Defence accepted the proposal to carry out field testing in preference to the NIJ certificates. The TEC did not make any wrong representation as implied by the D OPS.
“It is a glaring lapse on the part of Dte of Ops not to have read and studied the entirety of the TEC report. The best BFS (Back Fire Signature) was not only the factor at the initial stages. The criteria was the confirmation of the specs. Thus the prices offered by all suppliers are not given.
“Going through the minute addressed to the Commander by the D Ops, I am inclined to believe that D Ops is casting aspersions that the TEC has failed in its duty and has been biased. If this is the thinking, I am bold to say that none in the TEC were biased towards any and the conduct of the TEC was above question. If an alternative Bd (board) is appointed in deference to the opinion of the D Ops, it amounts to an act of no confidence and implies biased opinion by the TEC. This probably could lead to the deserved being ultimately selected”.
Brigadier Balasuriya also raised several other issues which were answered by Major General Nammuni as reported in the Situation Report.
The Situation Report went on to say: “Evidently Maj. Gen. Nammuni’s rejoinder did not end the matter there. Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte appointed an eight member Committee to evaluate the offers since he ‘wanted the opinion of the Field Commanders before arriving at a final decision.
“The team was headed by the present Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasuriya. That was in his capacity as a Major General who was Overall Operations Commander (OOC). Other members were: Maj. Gen. P. A. Karunatilleke, Maj. Gen. G.S.C. Fonseka, Brigadier M.D.S. Chandrapala, Brigadier D.S.K. Wijesooriya, Brigadier G. Hettiaratchchi, Col. P. Chandrawansa and Col. K.A.N.S. Fernando.
“The Evaluation Committee report signed by Gen. Weerasooriya said:
‘Samples of Body Armour to be evaluated was brought to Vavuniya by D Ops AHQ (Brigadier Balasuriya). All the identification marks had been removed from the samples prior to bringing them to VNA. Each sample had been given a number by D Ops and the Board of officers who evaluated the Body Armour identified these samples only by these given numbers.
‘There were twelve samples. It was informed that the TEC had conducted a firing test with the assistance of Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe and the results of this test were forwarded by D Ops. When contacted Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe, he informed me that any sample having a BFS higher than 35 should not be considered as it is fatal..
“It was observed that three of the samples (numbers are listed) have failed firing tests. As this is the most important feature of a Body Armour, the Board decided not to consider these samples any further...
“Pointing out that the Evaluation team made soldiers wear the samples, the report lists the various observations made. It thereafter observed that only four suppliers “meet the field requirement”.
“The Evaluation Committee report says ‘the board then re-checked the results of the firing test of the three samples...’ It was found that two of them were too close to fatal level and only one “appears to be the best”.
“The report adds: ‘On July 13, 1998, Lt. Col. Daya Rajasinghe, was consulted regarding the results of the firing test conducted by him. He confirmed that the results are accurate and informed that according to the firing test results the following samples are recommended ...’ “(Four samples are listed)
‘On July 22, 1998, then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte, wrote to the Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva. He said:
“A Technical Evaluation Committee was appointed by the MOD to evaluate the tender for procurement of 3,000 Nos. of Body Armour for Sri Lanka Army. Careful perusal of Technical Evaluation Committee report raised certain observations and further, results of field firing test and recommendation of the committee was contradictory. Hence, a board comprising senior officers serving in the field headed by the Chief of Staff & GOC was appointed to conduct a detailed evaluation on the samples submitted by the suppliers and results field firing test in order to select the best offer to suit our requirement.
“Having carried out a detailed evaluation by the field commanders, the board has recommended sample No 4 which (the supplier is named)has been offered as the most suitable body armour for purchase by the Sri Lanka Army.
“I suggest that the tender board should call the president of the Technical Evaluation Committee and Chief of Staff & OOC, who headed the other board and clarify matters before taking a final decision”.
“The matter ended early this month (January, 1999) with the Ministry of Defence awarding the tender. Letters of Credit have been opened. The recipient, it turns out, is the one who objected to the findings of the Technical Evaluation Committee.’
The relevant fact in this entire issue is that the consignment supplied is suspect of being sub-standard. At a random testing, the equipment failed to meet the specified requirements of protection. Hence, the obvious demand that the supplier replace the armour plates with new ones. Combined with that, the further demand that the supplier also changes the size of the jackets clearly indicates that the consignment has not been in keeping with the requirements of the tender.
Considering the background under which the tender by this supplier came to be selected by itself questions the transparency of this procurement. That this supplier was chosen even whilst rejecting another tenderer, whose offer was recommended by the Technical Evaluation Committee, further muddies the bona fides of the issue. Now that the consignment supplied is found to be sub standard and unacceptable in its supplied state, it appears to be in character with the dubiousness of the entire transaction.
In the context of this episode, it is mystifying that the Army should take the unprecedented and wholly irrational decision to demand of the supplier a ‘guarantee’ for ‘compensation’ to soldiers injured due to the failure of the Body Armour supplied. Not only is it, according to those knowledgeable on procurement procedures, totally contradictory with accepted norms but is also in conflict with moral principles.
To simplify the argument, what the Army is saying is that the equipment will be accepted with a ‘guarantee’, regardless that it is sub-standard and therefore unreliable. The corollary would then be to inform the soldier ‘this jacket is unreliable, but don’t worry in case of injury (or death) you will be compensated.’
In as much as this is pervertedly hilarious, it raises the question as to whose interest this equipment is procured. It would seem there is an unhealthy concern tilted to procure this equipment or to see this supplier’s consignment delivered with an insurance undertaking and some modifications.Whereas rightly, it would seem logical to reject this equipment in the face of its inadequacies without any compromise especially against its total background. Of course, the consignment is valued at over Rs 76 million. Big money, What ?
The many questions on this transactions and its patent lack of transparency leave room for conjecture. This is not to the interests of the Government or the Army. Speculation on widespread corruption in procurements is rampant. It would therefore be in the interests of the Government to have a thorough investigation of the entire Body Armour transaction.
To inquire how the media came by this information is an exercise in futility. It is generally in a climate of dissatisfaction or frustration, when recourse to redress and fair play is inhibited, that information of malpractice, irregularities and suspicious activities surface in the media. This is a vital and integral quality in a democracy. To dismiss them under various guises is an attempt to stifle the public right to know.
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