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Opinions of Monday, 13 February 2017

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Ayikoi Otoo, how many were the presidential vehicles - 678, 641 or 426?

By: Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Political discourse in Ghana is one of the most interesting and controversial topics, especially when it comes to the two leading political parties (the ruling NPP and the main opposition party, NDC). The two always seek to gain political capital over the other on every issue and paint each other black in an effort to assume political hegemony in Ghana. Recent incidents under the one month old Nana Akufo-Addo presidency are symptomatic of the modus operandi of NPP and NDC under the Fourth Republic. I am referring to the parliamentary bribery allegations, the cost of the new vice-president’s official residence and the allegation of missing presidential vehicles, which is the subject of this article.

It appears under the fourth republic, after change of government from NDC to NPP and vice-versa every eight years, Ghanaians are treated to a reprisal of vehicle seizures by the new government on the former political appointees of the immediate past governments. This happened when president Kufour took over from president Rawlings as well as when the late Mills took over from president Kufour and now happening after president Akufo-Addo took over from president Mahama. I only observed what happened in 2009 when the then former foreign minister under the Kufour’s government now president Nana Akufo-Addo’s private vehicle was seized in Rambo-style operation. There have been other victims but what is unusual is the same thing being repeated after every eight additional years of constitutional democratic experience.

In each case, after peaceful transition of one ruling party to the other, the new government accuses the previous one of stealing or taking away state vehicles at the presidency and in so doing incapacitating the effective operations of the new government machinery at the presidency. In the current controversy, the new government is alleging that two hundred vehicles at the presidency have vanished into thin air without trace. What makes the controversy worrying is the conflicting figures given out by various parties.

According to the constitutionally mandated Administrator General who has responsibilities for such matters, the previous government gave his office a document stating that there were six hundred and seventy-eight (678) vehicles as follows: State Protocol – 67, General Administration – 41 and Ver Very Important Personalities (VVIP) – 570. Contrary to this figure is a statement by the former Deputy Chief of Staff at the presidency, Mr Johnny Osei Kofi stating that there were six hundred and forty-one (641) vehicles, a shortfall of thirty-seven (37) vehicles.

Against the above is the information from the presidency that a document given to the current Chief of Staff stated that there were four hundred and twenty-six (426) vehicles out of which they saw only two hundred and eighteen (218) vehicles parked at presidency. These comprised of 173 serviceable and 45 unserviceable vehicles. From this document, they concluded that two hundred and eight vehicles were missing, and therefore a Taskforce has been established to locate and retrieve the missing vehicles.

Typically Ghanaian and NPP/NDC characteristic, more often than not, the true facts are missing in translation and the Ghanaian is left with guess work and speculation. The fact also remains that, NDC as a party in government never spoke with one voice on any subject throughout their eight years in office. For example, in the case of the new residence for the Vice-President various figures have been given by NDC and former government officials as the cost of the building contrary to official documents. Propaganda became their hallmark in government and in opposition they seemed not have learnt lessons from the fact that one of the reasons for their defeat in the December 2016 elections was their failure to be honest with the public.

Another aspect of this Ghanaian or NPP/NDC episode is the fact that, despite a transitional Asset and Logistics Committee led by the former Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mr Ayikoi Otto, there is mismatch between the figures being put out by the two parties and the Administrator General. The Administrator General has admitted that his office did not physically inspect or verify the 678 vehicles contained in the document he received from the former government for lack of resources. However, Ghanaians are yet to hear from the Chairman of the transitional Asset and Logistics Committee, Mr Ayikoi Otoo on how many vehicles his committee was told were at the presidency and whether his committee physically saw and inspected the vehicles. Is it not strange to say the least, that Ayikoi Otoo has been silent on this controversy?

The norm, when handing over is the two-stage approach to verification. The paper trail of evidence and the actual physical inspection of what is being left and handed over. If the Ayikoi Otoo headed committee only received paper documents of the number of vehicles being handed over to the incoming government without physically seeing and inspecting the vehicles, bearing in mind the history of presidential vehicles controversy since 2001, then, that is a monumental dereliction of national of duty on the part of the committee. Perhaps, the Ayikoi Otoo committee gave the outgoing government the benefit of doubt and accepted what was contained in the handing over documents on their face value in good faith. Whatever the reason for these discrepancies in the three figures (678, 641 and 426) Ghanaians deserve answers from his committee.

According to the Communication Director at the presidency, the president has only a ten-year-old BMW for official duties in Accra and uses his own private vehicle for journeys outside Accra. On the other hand, the former Deputy Chief Staff claims that four bulletproof vehicles were left for the use of the president in addition to Mercedes Bens cars. On Saturday’s Newsfile, one of the guests, Mr Kwame Jantuah of the CPP accused the government of using the issue of missing vehicles at the presidency as an excuse to procure new vehicles. I do not believe this accusation because president Nana Akufo-Addo seems so far as a modest person who according sources, used his own vehicle and lived his own house as minister and therefore is less likely to be involved in ostentatious life style.

What the missing vehicles story tells us is that the country has very poor record keeping that must be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is also a deliberate poly by politicians and the elite to live at the expense of the tax payer. It is clear from the discrepancies that former politicians and public servants buy official state properties allocated to them at knocked down prices after leaving office though they are in better a position to buy their retirement vehicles on the open market.

Another aspect of this missing vehicles saga throws up, is the question of presidential vehicles and whether it is appropriate for the new president to use the old vehicles of the former president, particularly in a society where sorcery is a strong belief. There are stories of new ministers and public officers in Ghana having ordered new cars and officer furniture instead of using the ones left by their predecessors for reasons of sorcery. In most developed democracies, the incoming president gets new vehicles because they can afford it but can Ghana afford to replace presidential vehicles every time there is change of presidents? This is a matter of national interest that must be debated and not left in the hands of NPP/NDC political supremacy.

Whatever the facts are the missing vehicles episode is not new in Ghana but unfortunately as democracy grows and develop, NPP/NDC politicians repeat the mistakes of the past just for political expediency in a tit for tact revenge but the policy of an eye for eye policy would leave us all blind and no one to lead. After twenty-four years of democracy and three change of governments through peaceful elections, the missing vehicles syndrome is scar on the back of nation. Whatever the facts, Mr Ayikoi Otoo must come out and clarify these figures. Sadly, and as with anything involving NPP/NDC, Ghanaians will never know the true facts.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK