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Govt denies sponsoring trip to Israel

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, Sports MinisterThe Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, has denied that the government is sponsoring 200 Ghanaian pastors on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel, at a cost of $2 million, as alleged in a section of the media.

While admitting that the government was coordinating the pilgrimage, he denied its involvement in the selection of the prospective pilgrims to favour pastors who were sympathetic to the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

In a statement issued in Accra Sunday, the minister said the pilgrimage was being sponsored by some unnamed philanthropists.

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He said the government was “only facilitating and coordinating the process and has no involvement in the selection of the prospective pilgrims from the various bodies that would suggest an NDC pastors’ pilgrimage”.

According to him, the cost of the sponsorship package for the 200 pilgrims, including air fare, hotel accommodation and feeding, was approximately $600,000 and not $2 million “as sensationally claimed by the false reports”.

“It is absolutely untrue that each pilgrim will be given $10,000 as per diem,” he stressed.

The purported Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem under the auspices of the government attracted loud public outcry over the past week, with the government coming under intense criticism for what many critics described as a misplaced priority.

Mr Ankrah, who is also the co-ordinator of the pilgrimage, has been at the receiving end of some of the criticisms, as many people wonder what his ministry has got to do with a religious pilgrimage.

Silence on the part of the minister and the government over the matter has kept the rumour mill fast rolling, with more intriguing ‘filla’ being churned out.

But responding to the allegations in his statement titled: “Christian Pilgrimage to Jerusalem: The bare facts”, Mr Ankrah described the media reportage on the pilgrimage as inaccurate, misleading and frivolous with the intention to cause mischief, ridicule and public disaffection for the government.

He, therefore, sought to lay the facts bare “to disabuse the minds of right thinking and discerning Ghanaians of the negative impression the reports seek to create”.

Mr Ankrah said over the years, various Christian and church organisations had called on the government to sponsor and address the challenges they encountered during their Holy trips to Israel.

He said it was in response to those requests that it decided to facilitate and coordinate a pilot pilgrimage to Israel, “which is nothing new, just as the government has been doing for the Holy Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj to Mecca”.

“In the process, and with the increase in the number of pilgrims, some Ghanaian philanthropists offered to provide sponsorship for this year's trip,” he said.

According to the minister, the government then held several discussions and consultation meetings with key stakeholders and, subsequently, the decision was duly communicated to the leadership of the various Christian bodies through official letters and phone calls.

“Contrary to claims that this is a ‘thank you’ gesture to pastors affiliated to the NDC, the government had no role in the selection process. It is important to note that the government left it to the various groups to use their own criteria to select prospective pilgrims based on the number allotted to them,” he noted.

Mr Ankrah said as of the time of writing the press release, the government was yet to receive a list from the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, of which Rev Sam Korankye Ankrah was the Vice Chairman.

He, therefore, described as “total fabrications” media reports that the General Overseer of the Royal House Chapel International  was  part of the trip on the basis of his close relations with him (the minister).

Mr Ankrah said his role in the trip was to coordinate the pilot pilgrimage for the government, pointing out that it had nothing to do with his former position as the John Mahama 2012 Campaign Coordinator.

He said a number of Christian bodies had welcomed the initiative, adding that although the Christian Council of Ghana was happy with the initiative, it responded that it could not provide representatives for the trip because of time constraints and not because it did not want to participate, as the media had indicated.

“In fact, they intimated in their letter to be part of any subsequent pilgrimage when given sufficient notice,” he said.

Mr Ankrah also denied that during the tenure of the late Professor J.E.A. Mills, he (Mills) had organised a similar trip for pastors and given each person $10,000 as per diem.