John Kufuor won’t be happy. The mansion he built under heavy criticism is not going to be used for the purpose he intended. And according to the former president’s chief of staff, the Indian government – which provided money for the project – would also be peeved with the decision to convert parts of the new presidential palace into the temporary headquarters of the foreign ministry.
There’s been no official word yet on how President Mills arrived at the decision to send the foreign ministry to the Flagstaff (or Jubilee) House. But it’s yet another demonstration of the president’s disdain for his predecessor’s ill-thought out and unpopular decision to build a luxury presidential mansion – instead of a hospital, for example. I share in that disdain. And I completely understand why the president is reluctant to move in there. If he does, the opposition will use it to campaign against him in the next round of electioneering. “You said you didn’t like it and it was unwise to build a mansion,” I can hear them say. “Now, look at you – staying there and enjoying its luxuries and conveniences.”
I, however, believe that a lot of Ghanaians – even those who chastise Kufuor for wasting the taxpayer’s money on the mansion – would love to see the president move into the palace. “No need to cry over spilt milk,” they would say. “After all it’s our money and we don’t want it to go to waste.”
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And so the decision to move staff of the foreign ministry to the presidential mansion will make very little sense to most Ghanaians. It makes none to me whatsoever – certainly not until government makes a definitive statement on what it intends to do with the mansion in the long term. Do they want it to be used as a presidential mansion after the foreign ministry has new offices? Maybe. Maybe not. But we need to know.
Just a few weeks ago, there was a raging controversy over whether there was adequate security at the mansion for the president to move in. And now, the security issues are going to be even more complicated because the mansion is to be turned into a public space into which just about anybody can walk to transact all sorts of businesses. Everyone who walks into the mansion from today to do business with the foreign ministry is going to have an opportunity to get to know as much of its nooks and crannies as possible and that doesn’t bode well for security – unless the government has firmly decided that Flagstaff House will never become the presidential palace. But if it’s going to be eventually used for the purpose for which it was intended, then the decision to allow the foreign ministry to move in there is very regrettable.
The whole nation will pay very dearly for it tomorrow. And when that happens Atta Mills will be criticised just as much for misusing what Kufuor was condemned for wasting our money to build. It’s sad because the government could have looked harder for a more appropriate place to be used at the temporary accommodation for the foreign ministry. So why the presidential mansion?