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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Columnist: Adu, Kwesi

Military Aircraft Purchases Pitfalls in Transparency and Governance

By Kwasi Adu

In the wake of the shrill debate about the purchase or otherwise of military aircraft for the Ghana Armed Forces, it may be important to pause and ask ourselves whether we needed to reach the current low depths of accusations and counter accusations.

The case of the NPP in parliament is that, in principle, they do not oppose the purchase of the aircrafts. Their point is about the pricing and the need or not for the extras on the aircrafts.

The case of the NDC government is that because the details of the purchases were provided to the Parliamentary Joint Committees of Finance and Defence in Parliament; the NPP should have raised their concerns and asked for details at the Committee level.

All these are fair enough. However, one question needs to be answered by the government. Would there have been anything lost, if at the point when the Cabinet agreed to provide the requirements of the military, the government had involved the opposition in the remainder of the process?

I have heard the argument that there is no legal requirement for the government to do that. That is fine. However, we need to consider whether we would only do things that are required by law? What about good practice in multi-party governance, even if the action may not be covered by a specific law? What about the morality of doing the right thing? Are we saying that if there were no law, we would not do anything, and that we would not do something even when it were the “right and appropriate thing to do”?

We are living within a system where our political leaders behave as if, in whatever they do, they should “do the other side in”. While the government thinks that whatever they do should be done to win more votes at the next elections, the opposition also thinks that, they should do everything to bring the government down to enhance their chances of winning power at the next elections. We therefore find ourselves in the pitiful situation where the government thinks that the opposition is “evil” while the opposition also thinks considers the ruling government as “evil”. The result of all this is that “national interest” issues are lost on the altar of petty partisan politics. Otherwise, why would anyone want to drag the Ghana military into such partisan activities?

I really feel sorry for our soldiers. If they join the debate, they risk being accused of being on the side of the government. However, one thing is clear. The air force thinks that they need the aircrafts.

There is another case for the need of the aircrafts that have so far not been emphasised enough. According to a very reliable contact within the UN system, General Erskine strongly advised the Ghana Government under ex-President Kufuor, to purchase military transport aircraft, not necessarily for strategic defence, but for purely commercial reasons. According to my source, who is very knowledgeable in the UN system, all the aircraft that are used by the UN are hired from other countries at very “sumptuous” prices.

The information has it that in the top league of countries who are making millions of dollars from renting planes to the UN for troop, material and personnel movement is Pakistan. The next country is Bangladesh, then Canada. Everyday, UN the planes that land at Accra Airport have been leased by other countries.

How many people know that our 37 Military Hospital is helping to rake in Millions of US Dollars for Ghana from the UN by providing hospital facilities for UN staff in West Africa? Unfortunately, due to Ghana’s inability to provide an ambulance helicopter so that the UN can use it in transporting critical cases to 37 MH, the UN is considering taking its custom to Senegal.

Why is nobody in the NDC government interested in including people such as General Erskine and other official opposition groups in such discussions and the processes in order that we insulate our armed forces from the partisan football going on?

It is sad to hear Col. Atintande stating, “We don’t belong to any political party. We are for Ghana. Party will come and go, but we shall remain Ghana Armed Forces. As it is now, the Navy will be helpless should pirates invade our new found oil.” Did we have to do things in such horrid manner as would force this fine soldier to say such obvious things?

The government would have lost nothing if they had adopted an open policy on procurement for the armed forces by involving the opposition. I do not agree with Atta Akyea (MP) for the irresponsible statement that the invoices should be published in the press. MPs have sworn the oath of secrecy and should have been trusted to respect procurement for the armed forces.

We do not have to develop the mindset that “we only provide information when we are asked”. It is even worse when we have to wait to be dragged, kicking and screaming before we provide the information, in bits and drabs.

The tragedy about this case is that when the NPP claims that the extras for the aircrafts are too expensive, the NDC government is all over the place trying to say that the price is fair. As compared to what? Would that have happened if the Ministry of Defence had included the members on the select committee (which includes the opposition) in discussions that led to the procurement of the items. Alternatively, was there something to hide, as the opposition is claiming? If there is nothing to hide, why does the government behave as if there is something to hide? If reliable, comprehensive, timely, understandable, and “internationally comparable” information on the aircraft purchases had been readily available to the official opposition, there would have been an opportunity to make an honest assessment of the true costs, benefits and implications of the purchases.

As things stand at the moment, people are bound to ask whether it is not at all possible for government and opposition to use consensus on some issues, especially regarding our security agencies.

It is crucial for the growth of whatever political system that we choose to adopt, that the behaviour of political leaders should inspire confidence and trust rather than infinite suspicion.

I have heard people say that if the NDC government, had involved the opposition in the actual procurement process, the opposition would have made political capital out of it by leaking it or claiming that the government has no ideas. I do not think that the opposition would have engaged itself in such infantile disorder. Firstly, they would have isolated themselves from the armed forces and would have laid bare the basis that they should not be trusted. Since one day, they would also come to power, why should not there not be a multi-partisan approach to non-partisan issues?