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Monday, October 5, 2009

Mills Men Fumble

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
Troubles over the Presidential Palace, Jubilee House, are far from over, as President John Evans Atta Mills’ men fumble over the facility’s details such as its safety status and the exact cost of undertaking some additional tasks.

The National Security Advisor, Brig. Joseph Nunoo-Mensah (rtd), has on one hand written off the facility as unsafe for President John Evans Atta Mills, while Deputy Minister for Information Samuel Ablakwa Okudzeto frowns at the media for ‘deliberately misrepresenting’ his side of the Jubilee House story during a recent visit at the facility.

The retired One-Star General condemned those who thought out the idea of a Presidential Palace, for not taking on board accommodation for the presidential security details.

Speaking to Citi FM in Accra last weekend, he described the omission as an unpardonable aberration, saying therefore that the facility is not ideal for President Mills’ occupation.

The National Security Advisor, under the circumstances therefore, prefers the Christianborg Castle to the Jubilee House.

“In my personal view, I will prefer the Castle to be the seat of government,” he said.

For him, the Atlantic Ocean which the Castle borders, provides adequate protection for the President, adding that the serenity of the place as opposed to what he considers the noisy traffic situation of Jubilee House, being located in the middle of Accra, calls for a review.

“The castle is on one side of the Atlantic Ocean which provides ample security for the President…It is well protected as well as the fact that it is a very quiet place as opposed to the new presidential palace which is right in the middle of Accra with all the traffic build up in the area. My view is that it’s not ideal,” he said.

That the President’s office can easily be seen as one drives along the road, he went on, creates a security challenge, positing that “it should have been hidden inside the property and not to be seen from the road as you are driving along”.

He however stopped short of asking that the facility be allowed to vegetate when he said that since the nation has already expended money on the project, “we have to find a way of dealing with the problem and use it”.

Former Chief of Staff, Kwadwo Mpiani, has however questioned the necessity for the construction of a $50million facility for the security details at the place.

He challenged Ablakwa to name a place elsewhere where security details share a presidential palace with the president.

“Do you have any presidential palace where the guards lived in there with the President? Tell me where,” he said, in reaction to Okudzeto Ablakwa’s statement that government was looking for $50million for security quarters for Presidential guards.

Mr. Mpiani posited that the Jubilee House in its state now is fitted with dots of security posts at vantage points, to provide 24-hour security to the President.

Mr. Mpiani pointed out that former President Kufuor operated at the location in its present state devoid of a security residence as being demanded by the incumbent government.

Mr. Ablakwa had announced earlier that an additional $50 million is needed to put finishing touches to the Jubilee House, $35 million of which would be used to construct a security residence in the presidential palace.

As for Okudzeto, apart from hinting that government is considering changing the name, Jubilee House, as christened by former President John Agyekum Kufuor, to Flagstaff House, as named by first President Kwame Nkrumah, he is fighting the media for what he said is a misinterpretation of what he said earlier about the palace.

He disputed the reports which followed the tour organized for the media, of the place, stating in a statement that “nobody suggested during the tour that a security residence would have to be constructed within the walls of the Jubilee House to accommodate security personnel before President John Evans Atta Mills moves in.”

Government, he went on, has not taken any decision on the security complex, adding that other options are however being considered.

According to him, what is required to complete the Jubilee House is $15 million which includes payment for $6.5 million arrears owed by contractors, unpaid consultancy fees, completion of works on the General Services Building, which is to house a clinic, fire service, restaurant and other facilities.

Continuing to fight the media over the comedy of details, which a cross section of journalists find absurd, he noted, “The ministry found it rather shocking that some media houses and reporters decided, despite the information and detailed explanations offered during the tour, to peddle deliberate falsehood.”

This disagreement over figures and details between the deputy minister and the media comes against the backdrop of a similar tempestuous subject when he assured journalists that having made checks at the presidency, there was no truth that government was purchasing aircraft for the Ghana Air Force.

No sooner had he scowled at the media establishments which carried the story, than the Defence Minister authenticate the defence contract deal, albeit with altered figures of two aircraft and not four as contained in the news story.

By A.R. Gomda

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