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General News of Thursday, 22 May 2003

Source: Ministry of Information

Presidential Jet: Issues Arising

The Hon. Minister for Information, Nana Akomea (MP) today held a press briefing to inform the media about issues concerning the Presidential Jet. (see full text of his statement)
1. Government has taken note of various public sentiments expressed through the news media on the so called Presidential Jet, and sets out this clarification in order to inform the debate.

1. GOVERNMENT DOES NOT SEEM TO HAVE MADE ANY HEADWAY IN TWO YEARS:

Government assures the public that some progress has been made. The difficulty has arisen because of the murkiness of the transaction involving the jet.

Preliminary investigation established that the then Ghanaian Government bought the jet from a company called Trans Air Trade of Switzerland. The Government then sold the just bought jet to the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC).

Government then proceeded to lease/hire purchase the same aircraft from the same HSBC, to whom the government had sold the same aircraft.

Extremely bizarre as this arrangement was, the former government would also not release documents covering the deal so that the new Government could see its way clear on the matter.

The only document released was the Lease/Hire Purchase one, and even that was brought to Parliament eight months after it had been signed.

In the circumstance, it has taken a lot of time and painstaking investigation for government to discover all the documentation, including the Loan Agreement between Ghana and the HSBC (to finance the lease/hire purchase) and the Purchase Agreements between Ghana and Trans Air Trade and Ghana and HSBC.

It is also note-worthy that the lease/hire purchase transaction between the government and HSBC had been done through a one-purpose company called Gallen Limited, with an offshore address in the Cayman Islands.

Under the Lease/Hire Purchase agreement with HSPC, through Gallen Limited, the government had guaranteed payments by drawing $16 million from Ghana’s Peacekeeping Accounts with the United Nations, to establish an escrow account in the United States.
So that if the Ghanaian government missed the scheduled payments, Gallen would deduct the money from the escrow account.
During the new government’s investigations to establish all the details of the deal, HSBC sought to come to terms with Ghana.
In the ensuing new rounds of negotiations, they owned up to being Gallen Limited, and therefore the owners of the jet and beneficiaries of the deductions.
The new government also indicated to them that it was not interested in the whole arrangement and sought to have it repudiated.
It was therefore agreed that the plane be sold, and balances settled from the proceeds.
However in the Lease/Hire Purchase agreement, contrary to the norm, the Ghanaian government, which is the leaser, had strangely agreed to the responsibility of selling the plane in case the lease arrangement was to be discontinued.
Thus Ghana the leaser strangely was left with the burden of looking for a buyer for the leased asset.
After the September 11 2001 events in America, the market for planes had bottomed out. There was therefore no way we could sell the plane and make any decent return.
So we had to sit it out to wait for the market to pick up, if we were to make any decent recovery for the Ghanaian taxpayer.
At this moment, Gulfstream Limited, the manufacturers of the plane, are assisting the government to secure a buyer, as the market seems to be picking up now.
This is the context that has brought about the seeming delay in disposing of the plane.

WHY IS PRESIDENT KUFOUR NOT USING THE PLANE?

1. The NPP had strongly objected to the acquisition of a “Presidential Jet”, costing in excess of $20 million in 1999, at a time when urgent social infrastructure – health, education, roads – etc, were all in dire need of government support. Candidate Kufour had said that it was an immoral expenditure and President Kufour would not use it.

2. The jet also is not the most suitable for Presidential travels. The plane seats only 11 people. A typical presidential travel including the President, Minister(s), security, press, staff would be hard pressed to be accommodated by this plane.

Indeed, there does not seem to be any record of President Rawlings using it. The records indicate that even after the jet had been acquired, President Rawlings traveled with the Fokker 28 plane (Acheampong’s jet), which seats over 20 people.

The plane was only used by Speaker Justice Annan to travel to a funeral in Southern Africa.
The above, coupled with the murkiness and highly strange nature of the transactions, it is understandable why President Kufour would not use the Gulfstream presidential jet and would want to sell it to recover the money or Ghana.

PRESIDENT KUFOUR IS CAUSING FINANCIAL LOSS TO THE STATE BY TRAVELLING ON COMMERICAL FLIGHT WHILE THE JET SITS IDLE.

This is very far from the truth. A typical return trip to say London by the Gulfstream would cost the taxpayer $30,000 in fuel costs, landing fees and flight operation/servicing.

Commercial return tickets for a Presidential party of say 15 to London would typically cost the taxpayer $20,000.00. It is like if one traveled to say Kumasi by one’s own car, as against traveling by commercial bus. In the first instance, one would have to fill one’s tank (?300,000.00)? While in the second instance, one buys a ticket (?40,000.00)? X 5 However, traveling by commercial flight entails a lot of inconveniences – including stopovers and waiting for long hours at airports for transfers etc.

So the President, by traveling on commercial aircraft is actually bearing a lot of inconveniences and discomfort, but saving this country a huge sum of money, and deserves commendations.

It must be reiterated in conclusion, that government is focused as far as this jet is concerned, and would seek what is in the best interest of this country, and would keep the country posted on development.