Presidential jet unfit for Akufo-Addo’s travels – Defence Minister

Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul has justified the use of private jets by President Nana Akufo-Addo because Ghana’s presidential aircraft cannot accommodate the entourage.

The sector minister believes the safety of President Akufo-Addo must remain paramount in deciding the type of aircraft to use.

According to him, the challenges with the presidential jet, varying from refuelling, number of passengers and type of luggage makes the aircraft unfit for trips.

He was responding to allegations made by North Tongu lawmaker Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa that the president had spent over GH₵2.8 million on his recent Europe and Africa tours.

“This aircraft will carry a load of 11 persons minus the crew. When this aircraft is travelling to the eastern part of the USA or Asia, it will not load a crew of more than eight plus the luggage, so it depends on where it is going.

“Secondly, I have also said the aircraft has to do refuelling stops and also in this COVID-19 era when you are travelling to multiple destinations like the president’s recent travel, the Falcon couldn’t have been taken because he would have had to do technical stops which are not desirable.

“And when he is travelling with more than 20 people like he has been doing for business trips that brought huge sums of money for this country, he will need more than just a Falcon. Otherwise, the others would have to go a day ahead before the president to prepare themselves. In fact, the president would also have to go a day ahead because no president can shower in this aircraft. He cannot move from this aircraft straight into a meeting,” Mr Nitiwul told Parliament on Wednesday, June 16.

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa’s accusation

Mr Ablakwa accused the President of spending £345,000 or GH₵2,828,432.80 on a luxurious private jet rental on his recent working visit to France and South Africa.

The North Tongu lawmaker who took to his social media page to vent his frustrations was concerned about taxpayer’s money spent on these trips when the presidential jet lies idle.

The Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out that, “Per Flightradar24, the G-KELT aircraft left Accra with the President to Paris on the 16th of May — a 6 and half hour duration. Airlifted the President from Paris to Johannesburg for 11 hours on the 23rd of May. Then Johannesburg to Accra on the 25th of May was a five and half hour flight. This gives us an accumulated flight travel of 23 hours; so at £15,000 an hour, it thus cost us a colossal £345,000. At current exchange, that is a staggering GH₵2,828,432.80″.

Growing concerns about trips

Over the years, a major concern for Ghanaians has been the frequent foreign travels by presidents and the huge expenditure paid from the taxpayer’s money.

The issue keeps recurring throughout the Fourth Republic, with the trips being extended to other public officials, who mostly fly first and business classes.

Former President J.A. Kufuor, former President John Atta Mills and former President Mahama have all come under the public lens of scrutiny for splashing millions of cedis on foreign trips.

Akufo-Addo criticised over GH₵62.5 million for trips

In 2019, during the first term of President Akufo-Addo, the debate was rekindled.

The Ranking Member on the Finance Committee of Parliament, Cassiel Ato Forson, raised the alarm indicating that the President spent GH₵62.5 million on foreign travels in the first nine months of 2019.

The breakdown of the expenditure by the Office of Government Machinery as part of the budget estimates indicated that about GH₵63 million was spent on foreign trips, GHS5.8 million on hotel accommodation in Ghana and GH₵1.9 million spent on refreshments, while GH₵68.9 million was spent on operational enhancement expenses.

But the Presidency justified the expenditure saying every amount was within the budgetary threshold of GH₵222 million.

The then Deputy Chief of Staff, Samuel Abu Jinapor, in defending the expenditure, added that President Akufo-Addo is committed to protecting the public purse.

“As we speak, the amount we’ve spent is less than the approved amount, so, these expenditures are budgetary allocations approved by the Parliament of Ghana and approved by the Finance Committee of Parliament of which Honourable Ato Forson is a ranking member.”

He went ahead to point to the president’s lifestyle as a public assurance of his frugality.

“The man drives in his own car which he bought in the year 2011, and everybody who works with him, everyone who is around him, knows that this is a man who is not into all sorts of extravagant expenditure”.

Mahama cited for $6milion expenditure on US trip.

At the time President Akufo-Addo was receiving a backlash over the expenditure, a supporter of the NPP Fadi Daboussi alleged that former President Mahama was not innocent in splashing huge cash on travels.

According to him, former President Mahama spent $6million on a single trip to the USA when he visited CNN and posed for a Samsung Photoshoot”.

He added that the Cedi equivalent at the time was GHC 35million on “just one single week travel for a week”.

Again in 2016, former President Mahama was cited for spending $28,692 on his family while he was on a trip to South Africa in 2011.

At the time, he was Vice President of Ghana.

The issue came up during a debate on the Auditor-General’s report for that year.

MP for Atwima Mponua, Isaac Asiamah, who raised the issue, wanted to find out from the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanna Tetteh the kind of visit the then vice president undertook with his family that warranted the Ghanaian mission in South Africa spending that amount on him and his family.

He also wanted to know the actual number of family members on that trip.

But the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee(PAC), Kwaku Agyeman –Manu, said that the report had also captured the amount as having been settled.

On that occasion, Mr Mahama is said to have refunded the monies. Still, Mr Asiamah insisted, “Ghanaians must be told the full details of the trip for which the money that was not officially sanctioned for was paid”.

He stressed that full details of the money refunded to the state must also be made public.

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