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General News of Wednesday, 19 March 2008

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Presidential Jet: Minority Hoists Red Flag

... Contract already signed and 5% cost already paid before parliament informed
The Minority Caucus in Parliament, fuming with anger and rage, yesterday, registered their protest against the whole arrangement of government’s purchase of two presidential jets describing it as unconstitutional, lacking clarity and insensitive to the real needs of the country. The minority therefore urged the press and other civil society partners to continue to pursue the issue as a constitutional duty and a national commitment.

Addressing the media in Parliament House yesterday, the Minority leader, Hon. Alban Bagbin, said it was ironic that the very same people, who raised objections in 1999 when the National Democratic Congress(NDC) acquired the Gulf Stream 111 on grounds of misplaced priority, were now asking Parliament and the nation to approve the acquisition of two luxurious Presidential Aircrafts whose costs were exorbitantly higher than that of the Gulf Stream 111. He stated that the quality of life of most Ghanaians today was worse than it was in 1999-2000 as shown by the UNDP 2007 human development index.

“Water is now a scarce commodity; common kerosene is now priced out of the reach of the ordinary Ghanaian. Many workers, particularly teachers, the youth in menial engagement and railway employees are not paid because of lack of funds. Students are charged exorbitant fees because government cannot shoulder the cost of education,” he ranted.

“Yet the same government can commit a colossal amount of US105.150.000 dollars to buy two luxurious Presidential jets for the comfort of a President,” he added.

According to him, the Minority in Parliament has no objection in principle to the re-equipping of the Ghana Air Force with aircrafts because they have approved a number of facilities to equip the Ghana Air Force, however, what was before Parliament was not an application for the acquisition of aircrafts for the Ghana Air Force per se but the acquisition of two luxury aircrafts for ‘Presidential comfort’ whose cost was to be financed from loans and budgetary contributions. Bagbin mentioned that reasons for their outright rejection of the move by government to purchase the two luxury aircrafts was because these aircrafts were not acquired for the strategic operations of the Ghana Air Force.

“The reality is that these 2 luxury aircrafts are for ‘Presidential comfort,” he fumed.

He added that in 2003, Parliament approved a US$55,000,000 Barclays loan from which four transporter helicopters were purchased, again the Gulf Stream 111 was exchanged for four K8 Chinese made trainer/light attack military jets and one flight Simulator for the Ghana Air Force.

According to the Minority, they are reliably informed that as at today, government has failed to procure the Simulator aircraft from the suppliers and as a result the four K8 trainer jet aircrafts could not be put to use because of the lack of the simulator which was to be deployed in the training of the pilots and technicians on the use of the aircrafts.

He alleged that the Sale contract between the Ghana Government and Dassault Aviation, S A, was signed on February 13, 2008, by Hon Akoto Osei, Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning on behalf of the Ghana Government and the Deputy Vice President, Sales, for Dassault Aviation S A.

Mr. Bagbin elaborated that the payment schedule of the contract stipulated that 5% of the price due must be paid upon signature. The payment of the deposit he stressed involved the withdrawal of money from the consolidated fund without Parliamentary approval, contravened Articles 178 and 181 of the 1992 Constitution.

“The payment is therefore unconstitutional and unlawful,” he said. The report of the joint Parliamentary Committee creates uncertainty in the prices of the aircraft. The report they quoted “the prices of both aircrafts are subject to escalation up to actual delivery month.” Mr. Bagbin challenged that in effect, the report meant that Ghana would be called upon in the future to pay more money since the Aircrafts were due to be delivered in 2010.

The minority leader asked that in looking at the matter, it was important not only to look at the legalities or otherwise of the transaction, but also to examine the issue of how trustees of political power used the resources of the society for their personal interest in preference to the interest of the disadvantaged members of our society.He insisted that the government had created the impression that the aircraft was to be financed with a loan from Societe Generale, however, the truth was that only 85% of the total cost of US $43.14million was to be financed from the Societte General, whilst regarding the remaining 15%, 5% had already been paid and the remaining 10% was to be financed from the consolidated fund of Ghana in fifteen months time.

Earlier before the Minority’s press conference, the Defence Minister, Albert Kan Dapaah confirmed the government’s move to acquire two executive jets and stressed that it had become important for the country to take such a decision. He elaborated on Peace FM Morning Show that the move was as a result of a recommendation by the Ghana Airforce that the existing ones might be worn out by 2010 hence the need to acquire fresh ones. He indicated that the sub-committees of Finance and Defence of Parliament had approved a loan of $100 million to re-equip the Ghana Armed Forces. Mr. Kan-Dapaah further mentioned government’s intention to acquire four more aeroplanes in addition to the two controversial ones for the Communication Squadron of the Army.

Meanwhile reports indicated that the Majority in Parliament was planning to marshal all its members to vote massively in support of the acquisition of the two aircrafts and the additional four when the issues comes to the point of voting.

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