The mansion Kufuor built
If we take former president John Kufuor to one of those 'aladura' churches, one of the first demons they will cast out of him will be the demon which made him place his luxury and comfort above the basic needs of the people he governed. It is this demon that made him decide that it was more prudent for him to spend millions of dollars to build a presidential mansion when that money could have been used to renovate and equip the most important health facility in the country.
Just imagine what 60 million dollars would have done for the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn't be lying on the bare floors. Husbands wouldn't be forced to carry their pregnant wives to climb stairs because of malfunctioning lifts. All the regular announcements we often hear about the closure of the emergency ward would be a thing of the past. There will be no need for footballers who get injured on pitches in Ghana to travel to Togo to have their bones scanned. Our politicians wouldn't have to go and die in Johannesburg or London – usually after a short illness.
If Kufuor bribes me with his head and 'nuts', he still cannot convince me that building that presidential mansion was one of the wisest decisions he ever took. It was a big mistake. In all my foolishness, I would never have taken that decision if I were president – not when school children study under trees and our hospitals lack basic sterilisers.
That mansion is an obscene and insulting reminder of Kufuor's profligate vanity. So vain was he that he decided to 'commission' the project even when it had not been fully completed. He didn't want to share any of the 'credit' for building what he considered a glorious edifice. And he so badly wanted to be the first person to use it. Blame it on the demons...
When Kufuor decided to build the mansion, several Ghanaians criticised him with varying degrees of vehemence. Amongst the most outspoken critics of the project was the then leader of the main opposition, John Atta Mills – who is now president of the Republic. In the run up to the elections, Mills was asked if he would ever stay and work in that opulent palace after he had heaped so much 'dungified' criticism on it. He often responded that he would have little choice than to move into it because it was the taxpayers' money which was used to build it.
Shortly after he won the election, Mills visited Kufuor at the presidential palace. Kufuor took him on a tour of the facility, thinking that Mills would be so anxious to move in. He was wrong.
Since he was sworn in, Mills has not shown any interest in moving into the mansion. He seems quite comfortable in the “slave castle” Kufuor told us was not fit for human – much less presidential – habitation. And, now, it seems Kufuor raised a 'white elephant' – every pun intended! If you thought Ghanaians chased the 'elephants' into the bush think again: there is one big white one in Accra.
Mills has every good reason to stay away from the palace.
First of all, the presidential mansion is still work in progress. It was officially declared open just to satisfy Kufuor's vanity. It's true that some of the facilities there are ready for use. If President Mills decides to move in, considering his world-acclaimed modesty, he'd get a place to lay his head (which always needs a good night's rest after a hard day of incessant swinging). He'd also get a modern, fully-fitted office – complete with video-conferencing facilities – to work from. But the fact still remains that an estimated 12 million dollars (according to NDC kingpins) is required to bring the project to full completion. Government officials say it is not wise for the president (however modest and spendthrift he considers himself to be) to move into an uncompleted building. And with the economy in such dire straits, he's not ready to sign a cheque for 12 million dollars to bring Kufuor's vanity to fruition. He'd rather sleep on a carpenter's bench and run the government from his wife's kitchen.
Most significantly, President Mills has no immediate intention of moving into the mansion because he's confronted with a very serious dilemma, which if not handled properly could cost him some political capital. If he moves into the palace today, the NPP supporters who defended the crass decision to build the mansion will taunt him for using a facility he so severely condemned as needlessly extravagant.
It's a daunting dilemma, indeed. But the only one way out is for President Mills to move in – and soon. He cannot spend the taxpayers' money to make the Castle fit for presidential habitation whiles the presidential palace stands idle.
If Kufuor managed to get a donation from a certain farmer to refurbish his private residence, Mills should be able to get some of his generous buddies to contribute to this wasteful venture without necessarily spending the taxpayers' money. Maybe he should go to India and tell the government there to come and complete what they started with Kufuor. Whatever the case may be, there is a groundswell of opinion that President Mills should swallow his pride and move into the mansion. I think he should. Otherwise, 60 million dollars will go waste. Ghanaians will blame the bulk of that wastage on Kufuor but Mills will not be forgiven if he allows the facility to rot away.
Should the president, however, opt to stick to his guns and avoid the Flagstaff House at all costs, he should come up with some creative, alternative use(s) for the facility – just so it doesn't go waste. For example, we could rent the mansion out to be used as a four-star hotel so that any Ghanaian who feels up to it can go there for a presidential treat.
The facility could also be used as offices for some state agencies. How about moving the waste management department of the AMA there? We could even rent out a part of it to Zoomlion.
We could also decide to convert the whole facility into an ultra-modern health facility. I suppose a few architectural tweaks will turn it into one of the most modern healing centres on the African continent. When that is done, the president wouldn't need to travel all the way to South Africa for whatever he goes there to be treated for. If that place becomes a hospital, I will gladly fall sick every day.
The president might also consider turning it into a prayer camp. I am sure it will encourage T. B. Joshua to pass by more often. I can see a lot of miracles coming out of that place.
Finally, since we are having such a hard time deciding where Kufuor should have his ex-presidential offices, how about offering him a few rooms in the palace for a start? After all he built it. We may also want to move Rawlings' offices there. And when Mills leaves office, we'd get him an office there as well. Before long, the facility, which was originally meant to be the presidential palace would become an ex-presidential asylum where all our former leaders will be helped to get over the withdrawal symptoms suffer after getting out of power. Let's start with Kufuor. He would be more than happy to move into the mansion his demons made him build.