President John Agyekum Kufuor's dream of bequeathing to the country an edifice worthy of the highest office of the land, was realized yesterday when phase one of the presidential complex was commissioned.
The commissioning of the complex, which is christened 'Golden Jubilee House', was steeped in pageantry with representations from various strands of the Ghanaian society from traditional institutions to the clergy.
The project, which started 30 months ago, was constructed through a joint India/Ghana collaboration with the former providing the funding.
No wonder Indian and Ghanaian cultures were showcased as part of the pageantry, with dancers from the two countries thrilling the large turnout of invited guests.
A contingent of officers and men of the Ghana Air Force supported by a combined band of the Army and the Air Force added military colour to the long programme which was telecast live on GTV.
A traditional prayer was offered, followed by Christian and Islamic ones to give the commissioning the spiritual touch demanded at such occasions in Ghanaian society.
With the commissioning, the seat of government, the Castle, is gradually being moved to the new structure which has joined the catalogue of skylines in the city of Accra.
President Kufuor was symbolically presented with the keys to the Golden Jubilee House.
The architecturally unique edifice comprises an office complex to accommodate the President, Vice President, civil and public servants as well as a residence for the President which can accommodate a visiting head of state or government.
The complex also houses the official residence of Ghana's first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah which has been dubbed “Nkrumah's Heritage House” in addition to a services building that will house a clinic, restaurant, bank, post office, fire service post as well as a large parking area for vehicles.
With many Ghanaians especially critics of the incumbent government anxious to know the total cost of the project, the Chief of Staff, Kwadwo Mpiani swerved them all, stating that the “exact figure would be announced when the project is fully completed”.
Originally, the project was estimated to cost $36,900,000 comprising a concessionary loan of $30 million with a grant of $15 million from the Indian government and an amount of $6, 900, 000 from the government of Ghana.
President Kufuor was companied by Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Ghana's first President, to cut the tape and join in the consecration of the place.
Earlier in a speech, the President stated that the Osu Castle which has served as his office since his assumption of office eight years ago, was purposely built as a slaving outpost, and “indeed in many parts continues to bear the indelible scars and stigma of that inhuman trade of those times”.
One of the serious omissions of the past 50 years had been the inability to provide a congenial workplace for the presidency and an official residence for the First Family of the nation and this, the President said, necessitated the construction of the imposing edifice.
He dismissed criticisms that the decision to construct the Golden Jubilee House was ill-timed as it did not take into consideration the plight of Ghanaians, and stated emphatically that government at every stage of the project had been sensitive to the conditions of life of the society.
“At no time has government overlooked the challenges that the critics have tended to overplay,” he noted, and related how he took the initiative to source for funds shortly after he assumed office in 2001, only to receive an offer of a soft loan from the Indian government.
President Kufuor described the offer from the Indian government as “irresistible and God-sent for Ghana” and after expressing his compliment to the Indian government, said the friendship between the two countries since Ghana's independence in 1957 had been growing and “this project has proved the truism in the adage that 'a friend in need is a friend indeed”.
He hoped the relationship between the two countries would grow from strength to strength.
Mr. Mpiani explained that the total cost of the project could not be disclosed as a result of an increase in expenditure due to the provision of additional facilities to enhance the internal and external aspects of the structure and to make it more functional.
He said some critics had been so blinded by partisanship that they did not see anything good about the construction of the edifice.
“It is regrettable to hear some of them say they will turn this into a hospital and even more absurdly, some say it should be turned into a poultry complex.”
Indian Minister for External Affairs, Anand Sharma noted that the structure would be a symbol of the Ghana-Indian friendship.
It would also be a “remarkable legacy of President Kufuor” who leaves office at the beginning of 2009, he said.
Though the project was scheduled to have been completed by the middle of this year, it was delayed; but the Indian Minister praised the contractors, Messrs Shapoorji Pallonji of India and the local engineers for a job well done.
“In this century, your people and our people are bound to write an essay. This century belongs to Africa and India,” he concluded.
Peter Cardinal Appiah Turkson, Catholic Archbishop of Cape Coast, consecrated and dedicated the building.
To add more colour to the event, an Indian tradition of lighting a ceremonial lamp was performed by the President with assistance from the Indian Minister for External Affairs, to signify the movement into a new and refreshing period. A cultural troupe from India as well as Ghana's Noyam Dance Institute entertained the gathering.
In attendance were a cross section of Ghanaians including the Vice President, Aliu Mahama and his wife Ramatu; the First Lady, Theresa Kufuor; Speaker of Parliament, Ebenezer Sekyi Hughes; Chief Justice, Georgina Theodora Wood; Members of the Council of State; Ministers; Parliamentarians; Chiefs and civil servants as well as ordinary people.
Many countries in the world have such edifices for their Presidents, examples of which are the White House in the USA, the Buckingham Palace of Great Britain, the Elysee Palace of France, the Kremlin of Russia, the Aso Rock of Nigeria, and the Executive Mansion of Liberia.
By Sheilla Sackey & Emelia Ennin Abbey