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.
Read also: Ghana to acquire new bigger presidential jet
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.”
Related article: Why Ghana is acquiring a new and bigger presidential aircraft
"This whole business of how we take care of our presidency, how we manage the presidency," Mr Anyidoho said was something that needs to be looked at in the broader public debate.
Making reference to the Falcon where he said if the President has to take a "leak" whilst in flight, he needs to squeeze himself through the cabin and into the shared washroom. "Let us treat our President's in dignity. President Mills, some of the things that, today, today as I sit down here, sometimes I think that man [Mills] was not treated fairly [by us] and that as much as he was a humble person, maybe we allowed his humility to run us all into some small blind alleys."
"Yes, [we could have said that] you want to be humble as a President but with all due respect, Mr President, because of safety, because of this, because of that, the Republic is unable to allow you to be humble below a certain level. Yes, humility is good, we agree, you don't want per diem, no problem, but for the sake of your safety and the corporate safety of the sovereign Republic of Ghana, we will not allow your humility to go below a certain level."
Mr Anyidoho said some of his colleagues and some of the people spearheading the argument on the presidential jet currently and had the opportunity to serve in President Mills' government were not at the presidency, even though some of them were deputy ministers, CEOs, they didn't get first hand information and that is why their arguments are sometimes flawed.
"My experience in governance [as Director of Communication], because of my unique role as a speech writer, a spokesperson, managing the President's PR, I got to be with the President for almost all his travels. Some of the aides and staffers were never with the President because their roles did not permit them to be around the President on such trips and that is why some of them got angry..., and today they open their mouths and want to run me down but that is their business. If you had no role around the President, then those of us with roles, will not just carry you on a trip if you had no real role around him [President]. Those trips were not for funfair, they were for hard work. So if you were a Director of Operations at the Presidency, you had no operations on a trip to China, Japan and UN, stay in Accra and do operations work and don't get jealous of the Director of Communications who had hard work to do on those trips," Mr Anyidoho said.
He said President Mills himself scrutinized the list for international trips and dropped some names who had no roles to play on the international trips.
"My experience at the presidency, when I speak, I speak from that experience."
Challenges with the Falcon
Mr Anyidoho said President Mills also had challenges with the Falcon "and so if today, the current administration is talking about challenges with the Falcon... maybe what they should be telling us, is that they should open up the discussion for some of us to get involved."
He, however, found fault with how the Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul recently defended and communicated the need for a bigger aircraft in his response to why the president travelled with a chartered flight. He said the example the minister used in Parliament in relation to the President's comfort and "bath", helped people to politicize the issue and reduced the argument to "pettiness." He could have had that discussion without that unnecessary example. "It was bad political communication."
Mr Anyidoho said he subscribe to the idea of procuring a bigger aircraft for the Airforce and for the president's air travels.
"I subscribe to it 100 percent on condition that it is not referred to as a presidential jet. You see the whole problem starts when you say it is a presidential jet, and so everybody thinks that the President is looking out for his comfort. In America, why do they call it Airforce One? [Because] it is the pre-eminent and the number one plane in the fleet of the American Airforce, but everybody knows that it is for the President," he added.
He said if the Ghana Airforce was to be announced as procuring a plane, the public will accept it and it can be used by the president... "so I agree that it must be purchased, but the name must be changed from the presidential jet, lets find a national something, call it The Eagle for example, the Eagle has landed..."