General News of Thursday, 22 March 2018
The government and the Minority in Parliament Wednesday continued to slug it out over the defence cooperation agreement between Ghana and the United States of America (USA).
While the government justified the proposed agreement with the USA, the Minority called for the immediate withdrawal of the agreement from Parliament.
The Minority said the proposed agreement would denigrate the sovereignty and autonomy of the government and the people of Ghana, as well as the laws of the country.
“In light of the above, we demand an immediate withdrawal of the agreement from Parliament, pending the holding of broad consultations and a thorough national discussion involving all relevant stakeholders,” a statement jointly signed by the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, and the Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, said.
It said the Akufo-Addo government could not disregard genuine concerns by Ghanaians that the siting of the base in Ghana and the presence of United States Armed Forces personnel could make the nation a prime target for terrorists who had intensified their activities in the West African sub-region.
“In its current form, this agreement completely betrays the interest of Ghana,” it said.
At a press conference in Accra yesterday to explain the issues surrounding the defence cooperation, the Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul, said the US government was making the request based on earlier memoranda signed in February 1998 and April 2015 which were binding on the two countries.
He said the previous agreements were not known to Ghanaians because they were not taken to Parliament for ratification, even though the US military had been in the country under those agreements.
He said the hands of the government were tied because the agreements had been signed already and the best the government could do, under the current circumstances, was to renegotiate with the US government to ensure that “our relevant authorities have a say in aspects that concern them”.
He said consequently, the government of Ghana composed a 12-member team to meet an 11-member team from the US to renegotiate the defence agreement.
Mr Nitiwul, who was supported by the Minister of Information, Dr Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, said the negotiation allowed the relevant authorities, such as the ministries of the Interior, Transport and Finance, to have inputs into aspects of the agreement that were related to their work.
He explained, for instance, that under the previous agreements, the US military was allowed to move around with arms, use US driving licences to drive around in the country and that “the government of Ghana accorded duty-free importation and exportation, as well as exemption from internal taxation on products, property, materials and equipment imported into or acquired in Ghana by the US government in connection with their official activities”.
Referring to the previous agreements, he said the current government took the current agreement to Parliament because it wanted the inputs of the representatives of the people before finally committing itself to it.
He dismissed the allegation that the proposed agreement was a secret document, wondering how a secret document could be shared with all Members of Parliament.
“So when somebody says it is a secret document, no secret document goes to Parliament. If we wanted to hide it, we would not have taken it to Parliament,” he stressed.
He explained that the only new things in the agreement were the facilities at the airport, the use of the runway and the exclusive control of the facilities at the airport.
Mr Nitiwul said aside from those, nothing in the agreement was new, explaining that the current agreement had its roots in the previous two agreements.
He said Parliament was currently considering the agreement, stressing that Ghana was not the only country with which the US military was signing the MoU, citing Kenya, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, France, Cote d’Ivoire, among others, as some of the countries.
The Defence Minister re-emphasised the fact that the MoU had nothing to do with the US establishing a base in the country and that it was based on the assurance that he constituted the team to meet the US team to renegotiate the agreement and subsequently forwarded it to the Cabinet and then to Parliament for approval.
Sanctity of Parliament
Making a statement, Dr Hamid called on parliamentarians, especially those on the Minority side, to respect the sanctity of Parliament. He accused the Minority of leaking the agreement to the media even before Parliament began to debate it.
Alarmed at the military base
Raising concerns over the agreement, the Minority statement said its caucus in Parliament had learnt with alarm a decision by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to permit the establishment of a military base for the US Armed Forces in Ghana and the subsequent invitation to Parliament to approve the agreement covering same.
It said the Minority deplored the total secrecy that had shrouded the negotiations, leading to the drafting of the agreement, and indicated that the Akufo-Addo government’s concealment of the agreement from the people of Ghana portrayed a certain disregard for the sensibility of Ghanaians and the fierce defence of their sovereignty.
It said the agreement had been drafted in a manner that did not state a termination point, which would bind all successive governments.
However, it said no input was sought from political stakeholders, especially those with capacity to form government.
The statement said Article 10 of the agreement conferred exceptionally generous terms on the American side, including sweeping tax exemptions on imports and exports of various categories of goods and services.
“We find it unacceptable that at a time when the Akufo-Addo government continues to lament significant shortfalls in revenue, and in the face of astronomical duty payments by Ghanaian importers, personnel of the Armed Forces of the wealthiest nation on earth would be exempted from tax and levy payments and in such generous proportions,” it said.
It said the agreement had been presented in a manner that concealed vital information which should be available to ensure informed debate on the subject.
For instance, it said, while Article 1(3) of the agreement mentioned ‘Annex A” as the part where information relating to “Agreed facilities and areas” to be used for the purpose of establishing where the base could be found, no information was provided in the agreement about the said “Annex A” or the “Agreed areas”.
That omission, it said, greatly hampered a thorough study and review of the document.
Restraints on movements
The statement said the non-availability of restraints on the movement of US army personnel in Ghana, as spelt out in Article 12 of the agreement, was troubling, as it opened up the country in a manner that undermined both its sovereignty and security.
It said the waiver of the requirement for the use of valid driving licences issued by the appropriate Ghanaian authorities in Article 13 of the agreement smacked of wanton disregard for Ghanaian law and sought to impose American law on the country.
“We are at a loss as to why US citizens in Ghana cannot comply with such a basic requirement,” it said.
It said the Minority was deeply concerned that provision was made in Article 15 of the agreement for American law once again to be imposed on Ghana in the settlement of claims arising out of the operations of the base, including death, destruction of property or injury.
It said that provision needlessly subjugated Ghana to the USA in an unacceptable way.