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General News of Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Source: Daily Guide

$250,000,000 For New Jets

The minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Parliament is fretting over the acquisition of more jets for the president.

It is therefore set to raise issues with government’s intention to purchase a number of aircraft for the Ghana Air Force when a loan for the intended procurement is presented to the House for approval, according to information gathered by Daily Guide.

Government has announced plans to invest an amount of $250million to re-equip the Ghana Air Force with a number of specialized aircraft and the refurbishing of a hangar for the maintenance of the flying gadgets.

The NPP minority is particularly angry that the cost has been inflated. While some of the aircraft would be used for training, surveillance of the country’s borders alongside oil rig operations, others would be used for the movement of troops during UN operations.

Apart from what the country already has, the government is looking to purchase a new Embraer E190 jet aircraft from Brazil, two new CASA 295 turboprop aircraft, and two Diamond surveillance and training aircraft.

Also said to be in the pipeline are two new Mi heavy lift helicopters and Dolphin medium lift choppers for the movement of logistics, medical evacuation and others. However, sources within the Minority caucus have told Daily Guide that although they are not against equipping the Air Force, they would be questioning the u-turn of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) on the matter as well as what they claim are inflated cost of the aircraft.

They recounted that although a similar purchase was done at the instance of the Ghana Air Force by the Kufuor administration, NDC questioned the rationale for government to equip the forces at a time when it said critical sectors of the economy, such as health, education and sanitation, were badly in need of funding and therefore the nation could not afford aircraft.

A classified letter of December 2007 and written by the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall, Joe Boateng, a copy of which is in the possession of DAILY GUIDE, requested the approval of the Kufuor administration to enable the Air Force to secure Falcon 900 EX Easy and Airbus Corporate Jet 319 ER among military jets to replenish their fleet.

The then opposition NDC condemned the purchase of the aircraft, which were recommended by the Ghana Air Force, contending they were jets for the comfort of President John Kufuor.

“We are saying that it is premature for us to buy this aircraft. In any case, you have been in office for seven years? Why this indecent haste towards the dying minutes of President Kufuor’s presidency? Why the indecent haste? We want to know. Is it because of kickbacks or what?” E. T. Mensah, the then Minority Chief Whip quizzed in the Parliamentary Hansard of March 19, 2008.

President Kufuor denied NDC’s claims that he placed orders for the purchase of two executive jets for the presidency. According to him, he knew the Falcon 900EX would be delivered after he had left office; but felt it had to be ordered to ease the cumbersome travel of the executive.

The $37million presidential jet ‘Falcon 900EX Easy Aircraft’ acquired by the Kufuor administration arrived in the country on September 30, 2010 and was commissioned by Vice President John Mahama. It was purchased to replace the Fokker 27 nicknamed the ‘flying coffin’, which the Ghana Air Force had used for 31 years as a presidential jet.

It would be recalled that President Mills took over the presidency in January 2009 and promised to reduce wasteful government spending.In his first state-of-the-nation address in February 2009, he promised to impose “austerity measures”, stating that “As part of these measures, we will review the decision to purchase two executive presidential aircraft.

“Ghana simply cannot afford the expenditure at this time and we certainly do not need two presidential jets”. However, the Defence Minister, Lt. Gen. Henry Smith, played down the political party point-scoring during the commissioning of Falcon 900EX by acknowledging the need for President Kufuor to procure the jet.

“This plane goes beyond political party considerations as both the past and present administrations worked hard to acquire it,” Gen. Smith remarked. Now the NPP, Daily Guide has been informed, would be quizzing the Mills administration whether it is not engaged in wasteful expenditure while hunger, poverty as well as sanitation, education and health problems still persist.

The party, Daily Guide gleaned, would also be scrutinizing the prices of the aircraft, especially the Embraer E 195 and the hangar. A memorandum signed by Lt. Gen. Smith and Dr. Kwabena Duffuor, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning respectively submitted to Parliament indicated that the hangar alone cost $17 million.

Again, the Embraer E 195 aircraft and logistics cost $88.37 million. Almost the same amount, they argued, was used by the Kufuor administration to procure two planes and therefore could not understand why the Mills government could not do the same.

The issue of range has also been raised as the aircraft cannot fly to Europe, Lebanon, and South Africa without refueling constantly. But the Ministry of Defence has assured the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and the Interior that further configuration would be done on the plane to cater for the deficiency.

However, the Minority group wondered if the configuration could be done, as the budget for Defence was inadequate.