16.01.2004 Feature Article

Letter From The President (XXXV): Traveling in shame

Letter From The President (XXXV):  Traveling in shame
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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, I have already told you about my decision to cut down on my foreign travels this year. I didn’t take this decision because of the criticisms of people who think that I travel too much. I also don’t care much about the joke making the rounds in the country that I have formed my own travel and tours agency, with headquarters at the Foreign Ministry and Mama Tess as the General Manager. Well, even though such an agency exists, I insist that Mama Tess is not its General Manager. We, indeed, have this special presidential protocol unit which is responsible for drawing up the presidential itinerary, lobbying foreign governments to invite me for official visits, securing visas, purchasing tickets, booking flights, booking hotels etc. The head of the unit is currently being investigated for failing to book a place for me at the just-ended European Union Summit. I wanted to be the first African to sit in at an EU summit. In fact I had prepared a paper for delivery at the summit, at which I intended to extol the merits of granting EU membership to some key African countries. Since the man failed to book a place for me at the summit I have safely tucked the paper in the inner pocket of one of my yellowish brown jackets. If, as I expect, I am given a further four-year mandate on the Black Star Stool, I will manipulate the system, engage in cunning schemes and twist a few arms to get an opportunity to deliver the paper at an EU summit. Sorry I have digressed from the main subject of this letter – my decision to cut down on my foreign travels. I have just recently noticed that almost each of my foreign travels have turned out to be a regrettable voyage. That is to say that each time I fly (or travel) I bring shame to our dear country. Let me explain why. You are very aware of the fact that I have vowed never to travel on the Gulfstream jet, which was capriciously purchased by Jerry Boom and his henchmen. I have therefore been traveling by commercial flights since I ascended the Black Star Stool. Even though I often travel first class, I must say that I have suffered a lot of indignities on some of these commercial flights. Some of my experiences on commercial flights are so embarrassing to recount so I won’t tell you about them. I also feel strongly that by publicizing those embarrassing moments, I will be giving fodder to those who criticize me for refusing to travel with the Gulfstream jet. One other issue that makes me feel ashamed of myself whenever I travel is the large entourage which follows me on these trips. I have often felt that it doesn’t make sense for me to travel with about 70 people on one foreign trip. The entourage can be prudently reduced to just about 15 or less but sometimes I get so many people, like party members, ministers, businessmen, journalists etc., lobbying to travel with me. Another issue that sparks a feeling of shame about my travels is the frequent desire by other Heads of State, especially Olu of Naija, to give me a ride on their jet. Isn’t it shameful for an excellent one like me to hitch a ride on Olu’s plane, which is just slightly better than Ghana Airways’ remaining aircraft? I have never denied the fact that traveling is my favourite pastime. Since I do not want my favourite pastime to become an election issue I have decided to substantially prune my itinerary while efforts are made to correct the anomalies which make most of my travels so shameful. The first thing I intend to do is to sell the Gulfstream plane within the shortest possible time. I have realized that if I don’t dispose of the plane I could be charged for causing financial loss to the state. I am so tired of traveling on commercial flights and I want to ask Ghanaians to buy a special jet for me. But how do I ask for a new jet when I already have an aircraft I don’t even want to touch with a thousand feet pole? The best thing to do under the current circumstance is to get rid of the offensive Gulfstream jet. Immediately it leaves Ghanaian airspace, I intend to formally make a request for a presidential jet, which should not necessarily be another Airforce One. Apart from the scandalous and immoral circumstances surrounding the purchase of the Gulfstream jet, one of the main reasons behind my refusal to use that aircraft has been its small capacity – it carries only 11 passengers. With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t mind an aircraft with the same capacity as the Gulfstream jet. In fact, I wouldn’t mind a hard-working 15-seater aircraft. I am considering initiatives for dropping people off my entourage next time I travel. One thing I really need to do, I think, is to reduce the per-diem I take (and give) to those who accompany me on my foreign travels. Did you know that I take roughly about two-thousand dollars for each day I spend outside of Ghana. Yes, now you know. The per-diem is a major attraction for traveling – it really pays to travel. Those who travel with me take amounts raging between 1500 and 500 dollars depending on their rank. Even the journalists who travel with me receive a per-diem of at least 200 dollars. You don’t need to calculate how much we spend on people’s daily allowances whenever I travel. I can say it’s huge. All you need to know is that this traveling pastime is quite lucrative. So whenever the presidential travel unit (the one referred to as HIPC Travels and Tours) secures an opportunity for me to travel hundreds of people scramble to join me on the trip. You won’t believe it – even some of the garden boys at the Castle have at one time or another pleaded to be included on my entourage. Recently I asked one of the gardeners why he wanted to be on the entourage to the US. He told me that he wanted to find out why the lawn at the White House is so green from January to December. He also said that the expected per-diem will facilitate his plans to marry a second wife.

Having realized the enormous amounts of money spent on my travels on per-diem alone, I have decided it is not only economically prudent, but morally right, to travel in my own presidential jet with capacity for just 15 people. If I acquire a jet with such capacity I wouldn’t have the unpleasant duty of ordering people to stay home – people will have to advise themselves and I will be forced to go along with only the most essential people. I entreat you, therefore, to forget about the financial loss I might have caused to the state by continually paying the lease on a plane I have vowed never to use. Now I have come to my senses and I want to sell the plane. Help me to sell it. After it has been sold, kindly endorse and grant my request to buy a new plane with zeal and patriotism. It is shameful for an excellent one like me to be traveling on commercial aircraft and/or occasionally hitching a ride on other people’s planes. Bear in mind that the 15-seater plane I am requesting is the equivalent of a Daewoo Tico in the aviation industry. But I am prepared to ride in it because I recognize our HIPC status. I also want to make sure that the mad rush of people (Ministers, bodyguards, journalists, cooks, visa contractors, garden boys, janitors, ‘nika-nika’ operators, farmers, latrine boys etc.) to travel with me is, at least, temporarily halted before the elections. For once, countrymen and women, loyalist and opponents, be good to me. In need of an excellent jet, J. A. Fukuor [email protected]

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