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23.05.2006 General News

Presidential Jet Palaver: Minority takes on Gov't

Presidential Jet Palaver: Minority takes on Gov't

Minority NDC in Parliament takes on government for going ahead to trade-off the Gulf Stream III Presidential jet without parliamentary approval.

Minority leader, Alban Bagbin addressed a news conference at Parliament House on Tuesday. We reproduce the entire speech

The Minority in Parliament has taken note of a statement issued over the weekend by Government announcing a trade-in of the Gulfstream III executive jet procured in the latter part of the NDC administration, as a down payment in a deal for 4 K8 Chinese made trainer/light attack aircrafts and a flight simulator.

We wish to register our shock at the unconstitutional, wrongful and secretive nature of this transaction.

The Gulfstream III executive jet was procured during the NDC administration for executive travel. It was procured at a time when cabinet had taken a decision to severely restrict the size of Presidential delegations in order to cut down on expenditure.

The actual cost of the aircraft as at 1999 was US$13,500,000. Training for 5 pilots, 5 mechanics, spare parts, refurbishment, and upgrading of avionics and navigational equipment cost another US$3,180,000. Because the Government at the time thought it was imprudent to pay US$13.5 million cash upfront for the jet at the time, it entered into a lease agreement structured by the HSBC bank to spread payment of the cost over a 5 year period. Interest payment on the lease and transaction fees brought the final cost of he aircraft to US$19,978,848.95.

The NPP in opposition was very critical of this purchase and criticized the NDC administration for failing to secure the approval of Parliament for what essentially was an international transaction to which Government was a party by the terms of article 181 of the 1992 constitution.

Following the take over of the reins of administration of this country by the Kufuor administration, the President took a decision not to use the jet.

Following a default in paying the semi-annual lease payment of US$1.5 million, a delegation from HSBC bank arrived in the country in July, 2001 and held extensive meetings with the Senior Minister Mr. J.H. Mensah. At this meeting the Government expressed its wish to speedily dispose of the jet. Based on this expression of intent, the HSBC team asked the Government to execute a sales agency agreement based on which the jet would have been sold at US$9 million and therefore spare Government the agony of paying the remaining lease installments.

It is important to note this was at the time when there was a depression in the jet aircraft market following the 9/11 attacks in the US. The NPP Government failed to respond to this offer.

The aircraft therefore sat on the tarmac at the Air force base until the entire balance of US$10.89 million on the semi-annual lease payments were completed in February 2004.

Since then the plane had continued to be parked on the air force tarmac until last Sunday, when it was flown out to its new home in China at a value of US$5 million.

The question we ask is if the NPP declared its willingness to dispose of the jet as they indicated to HSBC as early as 2001, why wait to pay up the outstanding lease payments of almost US$11 million, only to turn around to sell the aircraft today at a reduced value of US$5 million. This represents financial loss to the state.

The Minority finds this situation a classic case of poetic justice, that the Gulfstream III jet over whose acquisition the then opposition NPP made much capital about a lack of prior approval by Parliament should today in its disposal generate exactly the same controversy.

Following the heat generated by the NPP in opposition about the transaction, Mr. Kwame Peprah the then Minister of Finance, was compelled to subsequently bring the lease agreement to Parliament for approval.

It is unimaginable that for a party that set this standard in opposition, in entering a new agreement for the procurement of military aircraft using the “controversial Gulfstream III” as down payment, fails to seek parliamentary approval for what essentially is an international business transaction according to the provisions of article 181 of the 1992 constitution.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media: In any case there are many unanswered questions. What is the transaction cost of the acquisition of the K8 Chinese military jets? Are they brand new or used? Our preliminary enquiries have put the sales price of a brand new K8 trainer/light attack military jet at US$20 million.

It means therefore that the 4 jets if brand new, together with the flight simulator should have a combined value of more than $80 million.

It is unthinkable to imagine how Government can enter into such a commitment without Parliament's approval in accordance with article 178 (1), (2) and 181 of the constitution.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media: We refuse to accept the statement by the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Kwamena Bartels that the absolute ceiling for any airworthy G3 jet flying today was set at US$6.5 million by consultants.

Just yesterday, browsing the net, we have found an airworthy G3 with serial number 477 selling at US$7.6 million. This (477) G3 is older and was manufactured earlier than the Ghana G3 which has a serial number of (493).

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media: We wish to register our strongest exception to the statement by the Minister of Information and National Orientation Kwamena Bartels, that based on the size of the aircraft and the number of passengers it can carry, he believes that the aircraft was meant to be given to the ex-President as part of his end-of-service benefits.

We find this statement by a high ranking public officer of the status of Mr. Bartels, who is in charge of providing the public with accurate information on Government policy as unfortunate and unacceptable.

Mr. Bartels is a Member of Parliament and participated in the discussion and approval of the Greenstreet Committee Report which fixed terms and conditions including retirement benefits for the ex-President, ex-Vice President, ex-Speaker of Parliament, Members of Parliament, the judiciary and other constitutional bodies..

Nowhere in the retirement terms of the ex-President was there provision for an aircraft. In any case as at the end of 2000, lease payments for the aircraft were still ongoing. How could Government have given such an aircraft to the ex-President when it had not even finished paying for it?

Ladies and Gentlemen: In December of 2000 and January of 2001, a Joint Transitional Team (JTT) made up of the outgoing NDC administration and incoming NPP administration met several times to discuss terms of the transition.

These discussions included conditions and retirement terms of the ex-President. At none of these meeting was there any mention of the Gulfstream jet being given as a retirement benefit to the ex-President. We cannot fathom where the Information and National Orientation Minister could have formed this perception from.

It is simply idle speculation and without any factual basis in history. We remind him of the words of his boss that “if you have a perception and you have no proof of it, let your perception stay in your head”.

We find very abysmal the maiden performance of the Minister of Information and National Orientation. Indeed we believe that he is in need of serious re-orientation himself.

It is clear that he has not graduated from the filibuster and adversarial nature of the floor of Parliament to the more smooth public relations calling of the Information Ministry.

We wish to serve him notice that he should learn fast, or else he will find his tenure most uncomfortable indeed. The Information Ministry is far different from the lull and stupor of the Private sector Ministry.

It is our hope that Mr. Bartels, with the addition of a schedule of national orientation to the ministry, does not intend to turn the ministry into a Goebellian propaganda unit spewing and peddling rumour as being suggested by sections of the public and media.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media: We call for an immediate submission of the terms of this agreement to Parliament for scrutiny. If Government fails to heed this call, we would take all legitimate action to get to the bottom of this matter.