Former Director of Communications at the Presidency, Mr Koku Anyidoho who served during President J.E.A. Mills’ era has justified why Ghana needs to procure a new and bigger aircraft for presidential travels.
He acknowledged that the current Falcon for presidential travels has occupancy challenges apart from the issue of stopping to refuel when on long travels.
Speaking in a radio interview with Accra based Okay FM, monitored by Graphic Online on Wednesday morning (September 29), Mr Anyidoho said “that is why President J.A. Kufuor wanted to buy two aircrafts, the Falcon and a bigger one, either an Airbus or a Boeing.”
Somehow, the second one was not procured and the Falcon became “an albatross around our neck,” he said.
Mr Anyidoho said with the current debate on the need for a bigger presidential aircraft, he completely supports the move.
He was reacting to the public debate on Ghana’s presidential jet following a disclosure by the Presidency that plans were underway to procure a new and bigger aircraft [over 100 passengers] for the Ghana Airforce, which will also serve presidential travel needs.
Mentioning himself [Anyidoho] as part of the people who should stop politicizing the issue of procurement of a presidential jet and mentioning how the then opposition – National Democratic Congress (NDC) – in 2007 opposed President Kufuor’s decision on purchasing two aircrafts, Mr Anyidoho said his experience in government between 2009 and 2012 was indicative that President Kufuor’s decision was in the interest of the state, safety for the presidency and cost saving.
Touting his experience and close working relations with the late President J.E.A. Mills, Mr Anyidoho elaborated the difficulties President Mills went through especially on international travels, when he opted to travel commercial.
He revealed that the challenges led to President Mills opting for a chartered flight on one occasion from USA to Venezuela.
He also revealed that in 2009, President Mills on his first local trip by air when he became President, went to Tamale.
He said he [Mills] travelled with a chartered flight [propeller engine] from Accra to Tamale with some ministers and that since the flight was hired from Italy, the crew [young French pilots who could not even speak English] was not familiar with the Tamale runway, and they nearly dropped/landed President Mills on an old and an abandoned runway since Nkrumah’s time in the Tamale area.
He said almost everyone on board had to get involved in physically directing the crew to the proper Tamale runway as if they were sitting in a “trotro,” after they had spent more than the normal 45minutes flight time from Accra to Tamale. Mr Anyidoho refused to disclose who spearheaded the hiring of that aircraft in what he said was a “serious matter” in 2009. He said the cabin was even filled with fumes and they could smell aviation fuel in the cabin.
He said this incident was kept out of the public domain but he deemed it fit to reveal it since that incident influenced President Mills’ decision to equip the Ghana Airforce.
He said it was from that experience that the Ghana Airforce decided to take complete control over President Mills’ air travels both locally and internationally even when it was commercial and President Mills also decided to adequately equip the Airforce to enable it discharge its duties adequately.
He said that incident led to the purchase of the Embraer for the Airforce from Brazil.
Mr Anyidoho said even though, it was the wish of President Mills to limit himself to commercial flights for international travels, the experience on the job made it clear that, the Ghana Airforce needed a bigger aircraft which could be used by the Airforce and also serve presidential travel needs.
President Mills’ personal approach to governance
He said when President Mills took over power in 2009, the Falcon had already been paid for by his predecessor [President Kufuor] and abrogating the contract would have led to a judgment debt. “So in the interest of the state, the Falcon was accepted… but to be frank, without engaging in NDC/NPP politicking, the Falcon had issues.”
He said the argument that the Falcon has occupancy challenges is true and not a “lie.” So President Mills preferred flying commercial a number of times instead of using the Falcon during his tenure.
This, he said enabled President Mills to avoid stopping to refuel with the Falcon on long travels which also came with additional cost.
He said the opposition by President Mills to the procurement of a new presidential jet and the reason he cancelled the order for a bigger one in addition to the Falcon had to do with the “individual [Mills] and his personal approach to the whole issue of governance.”
“So President Mills didn’t find it appropriate most of the time” to travel with the Falcon and so it was reserved mainly for short hauls in the African region.
He said once it was outside the African region, President Mills used commercial and cited an instance in 2010 when he used Namibian Airways to South Africa to watch the World Cup.
In all this, Mr Anyidoho said the “security people were not happy because it was unsafe and it inconvenienced other passengers on the commercial flights in the process.”