Parliament divided over agreement on drones

BY: Musah Yahaya Jafaru
Mr Osei-Owusu — First Deputy Speaker
Mr Osei-Owusu — First Deputy Speaker

The consideration of the service agreement for the use of drones to distribute essential medicine to remote areas of the country has generated disagreements between the Majority and Minority in Parliament.

Both sides of the House disagreed over the cost and necessity of a service agreement for the use of drones to distribute essential drugs and blood to remote areas of the country.

While the Minority said the cost of the project was too high, the Majority said the state was not going to bear any financial cost of the project as corporate bodies had agreed to fund the cost of the project.

The Minority MPs, led by its leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, said the cost of the project was too exorbitant, while the use of drones was not necessary now because remote areas only needed health facilities and medical officers.

Besides, the Minority legislators wondered why the project was to be given on contract to Fly Zipline Ghana Limited on a sole sourcing basis when value audit had not been conducted on the project.

They, therefore, called for the withdrawal of the agreement and said that they would not support its approval.

But the Majority MPs, led by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) MP for Dormaa West, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, insisted that the cost of the project was within range.

Majority

Besides, the Majority legislators said the state was not going to bear any financial cost of the project and that corporate bodies had agreed to fund the cost of the project.

They said the use of the drones would ensure efficiency in the distribution of essential drugs and blood to remote areas and also prevent avoidable deaths.

The MPs were contributing to the report of the Health Committee of Parliament on the service agreement between the government of Ghana, represented by the Ministry of Health and Fly Zipline Ghana Limited, for the delivery of emergency health and blood products to public health facilities in Ghana.

Reading the report, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) MP for Berekum East and Chairman of the Health Committee, Dr Kwabena Twum-Nuamah, urged Parliament to approve the service agreement since it would facilitate the delivery of healthcare across the country.

After the debate, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, who was chairing the sitting, deferred the approval of the agreement.

He said there was no information on the regulatory requirements regarding the approval by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority and the National Security for the use of the drones.

Mr Osei-Owusu asked the Health Committee to get the information on the regulatory requirements and report same to the House before its approval.

Terms of the contract

Under the agreement, the Ministry of Health bears no risk for installation, operation and maintenance. The ministry pays only when Zipline succeeds in setting up four distribution centres and meets the performance specifications agreed on.

The contract will run for four years  and $88,000 will be used per distribution centre per month when fully deployed.

The company guarantees average emergency delivery time of less than an hour and at least 150 flights daily.

The drones will carry a weight of 1.5 to two kilogrammes to remote areas. The Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC) was to fund the operational cost, while Zipline bears the infrastructure cost.

Minority's take

The Ranking Member on the Finance Committee of Parliament and Minority Spokesperson on Finance, Mr Cassiel Ato Forson, said $145,000 would be used to run one distribution centre per month but not the $88,000 as stated in the agreement.

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He said Zipline wasinvesting $1million in the project and indicated that the country would spend $1.7 million on each of the four centres per annum.

Mr Forson, who is the National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Ajumako/Enyan/Essiam, said the company would make more profit of  2,000 per cent at the end of the project but the equipment would still be owned by Zipline.

Distribution centre

The NDC MP for Wa West and former Minister of Health, Mr Joseph Yieleh Chireh, said the procedure adopted for the agreement was not normal.

He said the memorandum for the agreement was referred to Parliament by Cabinet instead of the Minister of Health, while the agreement carried only the signature of the Minister of Health without the signature of the Minister of Finance.

Wrapping up the Minority's position, Mr Iddrisu, who is the NDC MP for Tamale South, said the Minority was rejecting the agreement on the basis that it was premature.

He said the government was giving out the contract on sole sourcing, but value for money audit was not yet ready, and wondered "why the rush."

Mr Iddrisu, who is the NDC MP for Tamale South, questioned why the Ministry of Health had decided to give Zipline free data licence to use the country's spectrum, and indicated that the ministry had no power to give exemptions.

Besides, he said, the GCAA was yet to give confirmation letter on the range the drones would be using.

Mr Iddrisu said there was the need for clarity on the financial commitment of the GNPC because it was a public institution.

Majority's rebuttal

Mr Agyeman-Manu said the project was aimed at strengthening the country's primary healthcare delivery.

"These are some of the good things to do to reach out to people in remote areas", he said.

Mr Agyeman Manu said the Minister of Finance had not signed the service agreement because there was no financial burden on the state.

"It is not going to be done from the Consolidated Fund. The private sector has given its readiness to support the project",  he said.


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