General News of Sunday, 25 March 2018
Retired Captain of the Ghana Army, Ebenezer Budu Koomson, says Parliament has lost a golden opportunity to critically examine the defence cooperation agreement between Ghana and the US in the country’s interest.
Parliament on Friday night ratified the deal, which gives the US military unrestrained access to some key state installations and a free radio spectrum, among other things. The Minority Members of Parliament however walked out of the debate.
Speaking on The Big Issue, Captain Budu Koomson noted that the Ghanaian legislators failed to critically assess the details of the agreement on the floor of Parliament but rather resorted to emotional outbursts. “I am saddened with the whole tenure of the discussion in the sense that we have lost a golden opportunity to have discussed this thing properly and improve it for whatever it is, close the gaps, tighten it to our mutual benefit. We have lost a golden opportunity. The story broke and we were already in damage control mood. We were already in firefighting mode and a lot of us who were talking about this really did not have the facts available.”
“We were fed the story from some lenses and we are now trying to peel off the lenses so by the time it got to Parliament where it should have been given proper, detailed, constructive discussion, we had lost. The fronts had been so hardened; the situation had been so polarized. We were not looking at the paper, we were shouting at each other.”
Discussion at IPAC level
Ex-captain Joel Sowu, another panelist on the show, argued that agreement should have been discussed at the IPAC level for the buy-in of all political parties before it was brought before Parliament for ratification.
“The document ought to have been discussed at an IPAC meeting so all the political parties would have bought into it before it gets to Parliament.”
Approval of agreement
Parliament on Friday night approved the controversial agreement without minority members.
It appeared the House was bent on getting the agreement through before it rises for recess.
“This House adopts the report from the joint committee on defense and interior,” the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye said after the approval.
Prior to staging the walkout, the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, spoke for close to 17 minutes giving a litany of reasons why they believe the agreement should not be ratified by Parliament.
Ghana’s Cabinet had agreed to provide the US’ military troop a place near the Kotoka International Airport, and also give them unhindered access to some key installations following a Memorandum of Understanding between the government of Ghana and the US government.
The MoU was laid before Parliament on Tuesday recommending to Parliament to ratify the agreement, but it was rejected by the opposition in Parliament.
With the agreement ratified, it means that the US troops will among other things be exempted from paying taxes on equipment that are brought to Ghana as well as use Ghana’s radio spectrum for free.
The troops and their equipment will also have unhindered access to the US forces and their equipment.
Although many Ghanaians have expressed resentment over the clauses of the agreement, the Defence Minister, Dominic Nitiwul, said the agreement is in the best interest of Ghana.
The Government has consistently explained that it was only respecting the existing Status of Forces Agreement with the US signed since 1998 and reviewed in 2015, under the previous NDC administration.
But the NDC Minority has downplayed this argument saying the agreement as existed in the past, did not have the same clauses like the current one that gives the US unlimited access to Ghana’s military facilities.
The US Embassy in Ghana has also explained that it is only planning joint security exercises with Ghana, which will require that US military personnel are allowed access to Ghana’s military facilities, and that they are not building a military base.
“The current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States of America and the Republic of Ghana is approximately 20 years old. It does not cover the current range and volume of bilateral exercises and assistance. This year, the United States of America is investing over $20 million in training and equipment for the Ghanaian armed forces. Ghana is also once again preparing to train U.S forces – as it did in 2017. The United States and Ghana are planning joint security exercises in 2018, which require access to Ghanaian bases by US participants and those from other nationals when included,” a statement from the US Embassy said.