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Opinions of Monday, 24 March 2008

Columnist: Afreh, Manu Bernard

When the scales fell off our eyes!

In politics, never retreat….never retract…never make a mistake. – Napoleon Bonaparte.

When rumours wafted through the atmosphere about President Kufuor’s decision to purchase a new Falcon Aircraft 900 series with another 30-seater Airbus 319 at the cost of $37 Million, I laughed it down as a mere ploy to undermine efforts of government. But I had forgotten Ghana was an interesting country. Now, the rumours have taken a life of their own and the planes are scheduled to be delivered in February 2010.

Even though parliament has gone on recess until 20th May, it quickly ratified the $100 million budget for the purchase of equipment including aircrafts, laptops and personal computers for the Ghana Air Force. It also assented to one of the executive jets, despite protests from the minority caucus.

I thought most Ghanaians had imbibed the maxim ‘cut your cloth according to your size’. In a country where the budget is structured along foreign pledges; where foreign donors fund 40% of our elections; where thousands of youth are still unpaid for months under the NYEP; where people are still seen with the ‘Kufour gallons’ in search of water (a basic necessity); where $20million of taxpayer’s money was frivolously spent on anniversary; where the average life expectancy falls with time, I term the purchase of the presidential jet as irrational.

Members of the opposition NDC are not only miffed at government’s decision to buy the executive jet, but the manner in which the government shrouded the whole contract in secrecy, after disavowing any such plans, heightens their anger. When in 1999, former President Jerry Rawlings bought a so-called 13year-old Gulf Stream III jet, it became a major political issue, as the current government then in opposition said it suspected underhand deals in the purchase. Kufour, then a presidential candidate, vowed not to use the jet, when voted into power. Their schemers used it as a major election campaign subject to woo electorates into their fold. It compounded the predicaments of the then ruling NDC who were battling with falling prices of cocoa, timber coupled with a high inflation. I am afraid, the same script seems to be playing after eight years, and I think it is suicidal for the NPP government to have purchased the executive jet.

I remember how the government invoked sections 84 (b) of the Procurement Act, 2003, to sell the controversial 14-seater Gulf Stream III bought by Jeremiah Rawlings. Why did the government keep the jet for five long years before offsetting it at a meager $5million? I remember how the likes of Mr. J.H Mensah and Dr. Kofi Apraku described the acquisition of the jet by Rawlings as unconstitutional, and wholly insensitive to the real needs of the country.

If Ghanaians were shocked at the poor attempt by the Presidential Press Secretary, Andrew Awuni, to justify the purchase of the presidential jet, then they would perhaps be horrified to hear an associate professor of economics, Dr. Apraku, proclaim that it was done to lift the image of our country. It left me nerve jangling after listening to the sound bite. The more he talked, the more he roped himself in; and the more he tried justifying the purchase of the jet(s), the more he muddied the waters.

Kofi Apraku may be an associate professor, a title he probably earned by conducting research and writing papers, but he placed his political ideologies ahead of economic principles, when asked to express his opinion on government’s acquisition of the presidential jet. I am also a scholar in economics, and beg to differ on his decision to use the rise in GDP, and relative economic gains recorded under the NPP as a metric in telling the world that we were ripe for such buy and that it would lift our image in the comity of nations.

Need I tell the astute politician that, a primordial responsibility of government is one premised on giving undiluted service to the people? That it is the people’s needs that should top our national scale of preference. That the nation still suffers budget deficit. That inflation rate is still in double figures. That, those civil servants should not be boxed into a kind of subdued humility, the kind that comes with a complete surrender to poverty. That the nation has come of age and is far too gone than to tolerate double standards.

Now that the hoo-hah about the presidential jet is over, I call on the government to provide water for the people of Accra. Interestingly, visiting a lavatory in Accra costs less than a bucket of water. There is no doubt that poor access to water has contributed significantly to the nation’s dismal life expectancy which, according to the UNDP’s report, declined from 58 in 2000 to 56 in 2006. The same report recommends that everyone ‘should have at least 20 litres of clean water per day and the poor should have it for free’.

Let us look at our children. Yes, they are not your children. Yours are in private schools. If ours are not in the streets carrying ‘space-to-space’ phones, they are been raped and sold as labourers to child-traffickers. In 21st century Ghana, our universities are to run courses in Mandarin Chinese. Is this the needed technology? Hmm! We are also witnesses to how some politicians climb the financial ladder so fast that, it starts making people wonder if there is a money-tree at their backyards. But sadly, we are the same people who gather at their parties, and fall over ourselves with frenzy just to be recognized by them. Really, Ghana is much more than NPP or any other political party for that matter. The destiny is in our hands!

Afreh Manu Bernard,