Governance

A flying shame

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Apparently, Ghana’s air force, like its government, is one of the most useless in the world. Its pilots have no planes to fly and according to defence minister, J. H. Smith, they come to work, read newspapers and go home in the afternoon. For doing so little or nothing they get paid. In a bid to change all of that the useless government is making rather expensive moves to make the useless air force a little more useful by ordering a consignment of new aircraft at a cost of 300 million dollars.

When the jets come in, at least, the pilots will have something to do to justify their pay. According to government officials, the country would also make a lot of money using the new jets to ferry peacekeepers and, to cap it all, we would have an air force a little worthy of the name.

That’s all well and good.

Where the decision to buy the new jets becomes a bit of an oddity to me is when I realise that the man who ordered the purchase of the jets opposed his predecessor’s decision to purchase similar equipment just about three years ago. Atta Mills described Kufuor’s decision to purchase the aircraft in 2008 as “profligate” and one of his first deeds in power was to cancel the orders.

Today, he’s changed his mind. Granted that you can’t fault a man for changing his mind but when our president makes such a wide-angled turn around, we deserve to be told why.

In this case, however, Atta Mills is not giving us any different or better reason from the ones Kufuor gave for ordering a fleet of jets in 2008. What Atta Mills has done, basically, is to split Kufuor’s order into two – buy the luxury presidential jet first and order the other aircraft, ostensibly, for the military later.

Naturally, Ghanaians who were angered by the fact that Kufuor would want to buy expensive jets whiles our lactating mothers sleep on the bare floor in hospitals, are asking Atta Mills why he now wants to wallow in what he told us was Kufuor’s folly. The response from the president and his ministers has been a mixture of stupid lies, silly misstatements and utter BS!

Let’s start with the lies. Government claims that the economy today is better than it was at the time Kufuor ordered the jets. This is only true for those in government. Their economy has improved because they are getting fat paychecks for doing so little and their bellies are constantly full. Some who looked thinner than I am in 2008 now have pot-bellies and puffy cheeks. So, of course, their economy has improved.

But look around the larger society. People are still struggling to make ends meet. Over the past few months, almost every major group of public sector employees has complained bitterly about their salaries and threatened to go on strike. Government still owes a lot of contractors and when you speak to people who run businesses they tell you about how things are “hard”. Atta Mills and his governing team can delude themselves, but those of us regular Ghanaians who wake up every morning to work our backsides off for a living – unlike those in government who get paid whether they work or not – know that the economy has not improved.

But then assuming that the economy has improved and there is money to be spent, is splurging on aircrafts the prudent thing to do? How about fixing the hospitals and making sure that no schools are held under trees? Only a fool will tell me that we need aircraft more than we need MRI and surgical equipment for Korle Bu Teaching Hospital? How about filling up the craters in our roads? Are air force jets a higher priority than providing motorbikes and communication equipment for the police?

In answer to the last question, you get deputy information minister, Baba Jamal coming in with a silly misstatement which makes you wonder whether he has been using any powder other than talcum powder. Jamal claims that the new jets can be used to chase armed robbers. Yeah, right! He speaks as if the many elusive armed robbers in this country have been escaping with Embraer 190 jets. If Baba Jamal is so blinded by the pecks of power, someone should slap him back into reality so that he sees what we all see – that our armed robbers are not so smart and they use cars and, mostly, motorbikes. What we need to arrest these armed robbers are motorbikes – not jets. A quarter of the money to be used on these jets can buy a motorbike for each police officer in this country for patrol duties and help chase the armed robbers out of town.

It has also been said that purchasing the aircraft makes sense because they can be rented out to anyone who wants to use them for any purpose and through that the country can make a quick buck. When I heard that I felt like going to take a swim in a cesspit tank! I couldn’t imagine the idiocy coming out of a government official.

To add insult to injury, we get some profound BS from none other than the president himself. President Mills doesn’t seem to know what the aircraft he has ordered can be used for and what they can’t be used for. In defence of his decision to wallow in Kufuor’s folly, the president claims the aircraft can be used to evacuate people marooned by floods. The President’s remarks leave me wondering which of the aircraft he would have used in rescuing people drowning in flood waters at Atiwa. Would it be the Embraer 190 or the BA 42 Guardian surveillance jet? The answer, obviously, is none of the above.

That leaves us where we started in 2008 under Kufuor: why on earth are we buying these expensive jets. From all the BS and lies we’ve heard so far, it’s clear there isn’t any good reason. If President Mills would be honest with himself he would realise that these aircrafts are not a priority now. They should never be for as long as the basic problems he needs to resolve to achieve “a better Ghana” persist. The nation’s biggest hospital doesn’t have an ICU and is even right now crying out for equipment to perform basic surgeries. Three hundred million dollars can turn Korle Bu and Komfo Anokye into a world class hospital.

If we have air force pilots who don’t have planes to fly, perhaps, we should be asking ourselves whether we need them at all. Instead of spending good money to buy jets for them to play around with, we should be buying helicopters and boats and motorbikes. These are what we need for crime prevention and rescue operations – not an Umbrella 190 or whatever it is called.

PS: I have checked. The Embraer 190 is not a military jet. It’s a commercial aircraft. The website of the company from which the government is buying this plane lists military and defence aircraft. Embraer 190 is not one of them. Why the government would buy a commercial plane and tell us it’s a military aircraft, only Atta Mills and his people know.

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