General News Sat, 9 May 2009

Mills blows ¢3.4b on UK trip

President Mills Tuesday left Accra for a three-day visit to the United Kingdom, being his first movement outside Africa since his inauguration last January. Initial checks made by The Statesman puts his entire entourage at over 40 and the cost of the trip conservatively estimated at £160,000.00 (US$233,000.00).

This works out at GH¢340,750.00 - equivalent to ¢3.4 billion (old) cedis. 25 of the team, including the President, are staying at the plush Royal Garden Hotel, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, London. The first couple is chilling in the profligately luxurious £1,380.00 per night Royal Suite, with a violet and gold Tudor bed.

Deputy Chief of Staff, Alex Segbefia, who left in the middle of last week began the preparations and was joined Saturday by Kojo Bonsu and a team from Accra, he describes as "Business Men”. Mr Bonsu and others like Eddie Annan have not been included in the 25-man officially-declared entourage.

True to the unfolding contradiction between the promise of a lean government and the reality, both men leading the Castle's Communications also left Accra for London three days before the President.

Dan Botwe, Member of Parliament for Okere, has questioned why both Koku Anyidoho, Director of Communications at the Castle, and Mahama Ayariga, the President"s Spokesperson, had to join the trip, in view of the fact that there is a permanent Information Officer at the Ghana High Commission in Belgravia, London.

A source at the Castle said, “We had to let the two go to avoid controversy and bitterness.” There is a notable turf war between the two.

The Statesman can reveal that 25 members of the delegation are being accommodated at the upmarket Royal Garden Hotel whilst the rest are occupying the High Commission’s buildings in Neasden and St John’s Wood, close to the official residence of the Ghana High Commissioner.

Our correspondents counted up to 45 members of the delegation but sources say it is nearer the 50 mark.Foreign Minister Mohamed Mumuni, Finance Minister Kwabena Duffuor, Trade Minister Hannah Tetteh and Special Advisor Victor Gbeho were booked into the swish Executive Suites of the Royal Garden Hotel (see backpage for pictures).

The trip is expected to cost the nation huge sums of money in terms of hotel bills, feeding, transport cost and per diem in view of the large number of persons officially and unofficially accompanying the President.

Our sources at the Kotoka International Airport and London confirm that the team left Accra in smaller groups to hide the real number of the entourage. While in opposition, the National Democratic Congress, led by their leader, Prof Mills, repeatedly attacked President John Agyekum Kufuor for embarking on what they saw as expensive, needless foreign trips, with unreasonably large delegations.

Since winning power, the NDC has continued with its promise to cut down 'profligate expenditure’ and rationalise the size of government. But, observers are cynical about the scope of attempts so far to realise such populist promises.

Now in government, and faced with the reality of being assessed using the same measure they had used to judge the Kufuor government, the Mills-led NDC administration appears to be caught by its own propaganda.

Source: Statesman