Acquiring Five Jets Now Won’t “Better Ghana”

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

July 21, 2011

Parliament’s endorsement of two agreements to allow the government purchase five jets is not in the best interest of Ghanaians. We are told that four of the jets will go to the Ghana Armed Forces and one will be reserved for the Presidency.

I condemn both Parliament and the government for initiating this transaction, which reinforces concerns that our politicians lack the acumen to solve national problems. There is absolutely no need to waste money on such mechanical birds, especially at this time that living conditions are worsening astronomically and the people becoming despondent. Nation building cannot be done under such a condition.

Here is what the first transaction looks like. The government is seeking a loan facility from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) in the sum of US$ 105,370,177.09 for the purchase of one Embraer 190 Aircraft, related logistics, and the construction of a hangar.

The terms of the agreement include, a finance amount of US$88,370.177.07 for aircraft and logistics; an export credit of 85% from BNDES amounting to US$73,370,177.09, including an export credit BNDES Insurance of US$4,520,177.09. This loan has a repayment period of 10 years and a grace period of one-an-a-half years. The interest rate is CIRR-2+1.05 per cent, structuring fee of US$0.50 flat, and a commitment fee of 0.50% per annum.

Parliament also endorsed a credit agreement between Ghana and Fidelity Bank (Ghana) Limited for an amount of 11,750,000.00 Euros for the purchase of two DA42 MPP Guardian Surveillance Aircraft. The loan has an interest rate of 22.90% plus a margin of 3.0% per annum, a repayment period of 54 months, and a maturity period of 60 months.

We have no cause to be happy that the government has friends to lean on for such transactions. Here is nothing to celebrate. We should be disturbed because this transaction reflects our national blight. Not long ago, Brazil wasn’t any economic giant worthy of the world’s attention. Today, the story is different. Brazil couldn’t have developed to its current stage had its leaders behaved the way our leaders do.

Brazil produces cocoa, sugar cane, coffee, and other commodities just like Ghana but because of better administration of affairs, it is a model of development. Ghana is not so, apparently because there hasn’t been any good quality administration to spearhead its development.

It is shameful that we can’t set our priorities right and lag behind countries that don’t have a quarter of the natural and human resources that our country is endowed with. Borrowing money to acquire jets when that money could be put to a better use won’t get us any close to where Brazil and others have reached.

Controversy surrounds this transaction, as we can tell from the shouting match that took place between the NDC Majority and NPP Minority sides in Parliament. The NPP MPs questioned the acquisition of five jets and raised doubts about the cost of the aircraft. I agree with them on this score.

Arguments against the necessity for the aircraft notwithstanding, I have good reasons not to trust the transaction itself. In a country where corruption is rife and everybody responsible for procurement in the public sector seeks to fleece the system, I doubt whether some people don’t want to gain from such a transaction. Price inflation is possible; and my hunch tells me not to trust anybody in this deal.

Security analyst with the Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Centre, Dr. Kwesi Aning, may be complaining about the behaviour of the MPs—by politicizing the matter along partisan political lines to reflect what had happened in 2008 when the Kufuor government sought to buy two jets—but I think the issue goes beyond that point. The politicization of issues is nothing new in our Parliament. Something else ruffles feathers.

More intriguingly, I don’t think that any exigency exists now for the government to spend so much money (be it a loan or a grant from outside sources) on non-essential items. Our people are suffering and need redemption. A government that seeks the welfare of the people will not rush to waste so much money on jets just because it thinks that the money can be easily accessed and spent at all costs.

It is simply a matter of two things—the government’s ignorance of the priorities of the country or its lack of vision. Or the government is lame. I stick my neck out to say that the country doesn’t need to spend money on jets, regardless of arguments suggesting that new economic realities (e.g., the oil industry) demand that the military’s arms be strengthened for it to provide effective security for important installations and to forestall any sabotage.

I don’t trust those public-office holders stridently supporting this transaction. Somebody is in an indecent haste to capitalize on the transaction. In a situation where there is no transparency in public affairs, I’m worried that something fishy is afoot. I support the NPP MPs’ resistance to this transaction and urge all pressure groups in the country to join in the effort to resist this waywardness.

It is as if the government and the NDC MPs don’t know that Ghanaians are still living in narrow circumstances and must not be taunted by them—the very people who have been given the mandate to improve living conditions in the country but choose to do otherwise.

However strong the arguments of the government and the NDC Majority in Parliament may be, they leak. They don’t persuade me in any way to support the move to acquire these jets. Indeed, I will say with all certainty that providing adequate security cover for the country’s assets doesn’t even require such an investment at this time. The facilities currently at the disposal of the Ghana Armed Forces can be used for such a purpose. All we need is the judicious use of such facilities and a more disciplined corps of security personnel to do what they are being paid for.

In a situation where discipline has completely broken down in the ranks of personnel of the security services, no amount of expenditure to acquire even the most sophisticated equipment for them can solve the problem that necessitated this transaction to acquire the jets.

We urge the authorities to be circumspect in how they spend the country’s resources. I can infer from the heated arguments in Parliament that apart from paying the NDC in its own coin, the NPP MPs sought to do the right thing. I agree with them that the current harsh economic conditions under which the people live do not warrant such a huge expenditure on jets that will not provide the immediate rewards o alleviate the suffering of the ordinary tax-payers.

I don’t consider the NPP MPs’ behaviour as nettlesome as I will that of the government which, knowing how much suffering the people have endured all this while, will misplace its priorities and go for jets.

Enough justification exists for me to accuse the government and Parliament (especially the NDC MPs) of failing to do what will alleviate the plight of the people. The basis for the NDC MPs’ support for the move to acquire the jets is itself annoying. Saying that the economic situation has improved and, therefore, “the country is ripe” to acquire the jets is next to madness.

There is no drastic improvement in living conditions under President Mills’ government. The tons of complaints that we hear every day from Ghanaians do not confirm any claim by the government that Ghanaians are not suffering.

Even though we acknowledge the importance of effective security and know that it can’t be assured without the needed logistics, we still don’t want to accept the move to acquire these jets at a time that more important aspects of the national life haven’t been tackled. I will raise some of those issues to suggest that what Parliament has done to give government the green light to purchase those jets is misplaced.

Ghanaians continue to suffer at different levels, not because they have chosen to but because of the incompetence of their leaders. For far too long, they have been denied basic amenities such as potable water, good schools, motorable roads, reliable and affordable medical care, and other social services. The government may praise itself for embarking on development projects but they haven’t really improved living standards.

Let’s take just one example to clarify our contention. The majority of Ghanaians, especially those in the rural areas, lack access to good drinking water and suffer from the hazards of such privations. It is estimated that about 70% of the infectious and debilitating diseases that afflict Ghanaians are water-borne. Such diseases as cholera, diarrhoea, and bilharzia are prevalent in many communities which lack potable or sterilized water. Despite the huge promises and assurances from officialdom, the situation hasn’t changed.

We don’t even want to estimate the economic impact of such water-borne diseases on the people and the country. For obvious reasons, the institutions tasked with providing potable water are more interested in indulging in empty political rhetoric than serving the needs of the people. Take the politics going on in the Ghana Water Company and its subsidiaries, for example, and you should understand why the majority of our people still lack access to potable water.

The situation in the urban areas is pathetic. As I write this article, the Ghana Water Company has shut down its Kpong water station because it wants to repair a damaged pipeline supplying water to Accra, Tema, and towns on the Akwapim ridge.

The perennial water crisis in Accra and Tema, especially, is everybody’s worry but those in authority do nothing serious to solve that problem once and for all. For more than 50 years, Accra and Tema have never had a constant supply of clean water all year round. Don’t talk about other deprived areas in the country. Is anybody in authority bold enough to dispute my claim?

The education sector can’t be left out. For many years now, we’ve been told stories about the schools-under-trees in many parts of the country. The NDC government now claims there are 5000 of them and that it will eliminate them by 2012. I spit on this promise because it cannot be fulfilled.

Just a quarter of the money that will go into buying these jets (as I hear, about 250 million Dollars), can solve most of the problems that make it difficult for the people to live decent lives. The government may claim to be pursuing a “Better Ghana Agenda”; but throwing that colossal amount of money into the drain by way of purchasing those five jets can’t be part of the efforts to fulfill the campaign promises made to the electorate.

We want to tell the government that if it goes ahead to acquire these jets, it will offend the people beyond measure. President Mills can’t tell me that he doesn’t know the excruciating poverty that his government and its predecessors had condemned Ghanaians into. A suffering people don’t need jets. They need amenities to improve their living conditions. Certainly, this move by the government is economically dangerous and politically unwise. If the government goes ahead to acquire these jets, it will hurt its own political fortunes.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.