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19.03.2008 General News

MINISTER REVEALS JET DEAL

By Daily Guide
MINISTER REVEALS JET DEAL
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The Minister for Defence, Albert Kan Dapaah has stated that government will not abandon its responsibility towards ensuring that the Ghana Air Force is adequately equipped.

He said it would be highly irresponsible on the part of government to fail to heed the SOS call of the Air Force, which noted that all its Communication Squadron's fleet would be grounded in two years unless there is replacement.

The implications of allowing the fleet to be grounded, according to the minister, would be far-reaching, and urged all Ghanaians to view government's efforts to purchase new aircraft for the Air Force from a nationalistic point of view, instead of giving it a political twist.

Explaining some knotty issues on the matter on Peace FM yesterday, Mr Dapaah said since it takes about three years to manufacture a plane, any further delay in ordering the fleet for the Air Force would not be in anybody's interest.

According to him, the acquisition of the aircraft for the Air Force is not only necessary but also a state priority.

Citing the regimes of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Dapaah said the norm since independence has been that 'presidential jets' have been provided as part of the Army's stock.

“All planes used by our leaders since independence were not called presidential planes. They were Air Force planes. This is not new; we are only replacing them,” he said.

He debunked assertions by the opposition that the purchase agreement lacked clarity, saying any information on the terms can be accessed on the Internet.

The minister disclosed that four of the aeroplanes (Chinese-made) would be financed with a soft loan from the Chinese Eximbank to be paid over a period of 25 years, while the other two (French-made) would be financed with a loan from the Societe Generale.

For the umpteenth time, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Interior and Defence deferred meeting to debate the budget for the two aircraft, following the 'alarm' raised by the opposition.

Even though the plan to refurbish the Air Force has been on the drawing board since 1997, the programme was given a political twist in April 2007, after it came to light that the Airbus 319 and Falcon 900 EX Easy would also be used for presidential trips.

This was after a proposal, dated April 25, 2007 and signed by Air Commodore I.S. Kadri, on behalf of Chief of Air Staff, and a Technical and Operational Evaluation Report, signed by Wing Commander G.S. Evans, were submitted to the military high command for the attention of the Executive through the Minister of Defence.

The six aircraft recommended by the Air Force and said to be part of an elaborate programme to re-equip the communications department of the Service, include one Airbus 319, three MA-60 transport aircraft and two Y-121V light transport planes.

But the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) sees the issue as pay-back time, especially since President John Agyekum Kufuor had declined to use the controversially acquired Gulf Stream III jet leased by the previous government because of the murky nature of its acquisition.

Unlike the Gulfstream III which was acquired through the Ministry of Finance, DAILY GUIDE can say that the present proposal before Parliament is the direct request of the Ghana Air Force, through the Ministry of Defence.

For instance on December 24, 2007, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal J.O. Boateng, wrote to the Chief of Defence Staff, requesting for the aircraft because the set of planes the country has would be obsolete by 2010.

He explained that the Communications Squadron of the Force currently operates Fokker F28 Jet and Fokker F27 Turbo, both of which have an average age of 31 years, having been acquired in the mid-1970s. In fact, he cautioned that a yawning gap could be created if the Force's re-equipment is not embarked upon immediately.

“These old generation aircraft are programmed to be retired from the service within the next three years. It has therefore become necessary to start the implementation of GAF' Re-equipment Programme if gaps in its ability to perform its role are to be avoided”, he noted.

AVM Boateng explained that the two aircraft have outlived the roles expected of them due to their “limited range and obsolete navigational and flight management systems”.

He said: “One of the major constraints of the squadron is its inability to provide a back-up aircraft for executive flights whenever the Fokker F28 aircraft undergoes periodic maintenance or becomes unserviceable. There is therefore the need to have at least two jet aircraft configured for executive operations on the inventory of the squadron”.

And upon evaluation, the Force settled on ACJ 319 ER and the Falcon 900 EX Easy as the most suitable from six shortlisted aircraft.

“It is therefore recommended that action be initiated to negotiate with the Airbus Industry for the Airbus 319 ER Corporate Jet and Dassault for the Falcon 900 EX in view of the long lead time required by the manufacturers before delivery of their products.”

The NDC took advantage of the tail end of the proposal which asked for a further $10 million and $6 million for Airbus and Falcon respectively to cater for what was referred to as “optional items not included in the stated cost”.

The Falcon aircraft actually costs $38,850,000, but has a special price incentive of $1,700,000. This brings the final cost to $37,150,000, including training for three pilots and two mechanics.

Even though the President's spokesperson, Andrew Awuni stressed that the proposal is not just about a presidential plane, but one to replace old fleet of the Air Force, the opposition said there is something fishy about the cost, stating, for instance that there are some kickbacks here and there.

DAILY GUIDE has sighted a specification document, which explicitly stated that the cost of the Falcon aircraft does not include interior and avionics equipment.

Mr. Awuni has been justifying the proposal before Parliament for approval for the purchase of the 12-seater jet, which he said is part of a $100 million agreement to acquire equipment for the Ghana Air Force.

Hon Dapaah gave the assurance that the purchase of the aircraft would not hinder other governmental programmes.

“Buying these aircraft does not mean all other programmes will be halted. The argument is misplaced, otherwise there wouldn't have been the need to finance the Bui Dam when other equally pressing things needed to have been done at the time”, he stressed.

In a related development, the minority NDC, at a press conference yesterday, described the arrangement as lacking clarity and insensitive to the real needs of the country.

They said the purchase is being financed from an undisclosed source and contended that the aircraft in contention are not for the Air Force but meant for what they call 'Presidential comfort'.

The present obsolete fleet of seven planes of the Air Force include four Fokker 27, two Defenders, and a Fokker 28.

By Bennett Akuaku

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