A minister of state in the Mahama-led government, Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah, has finally decided to explain government’s decision to sponsor 200 pastors for a pilgrimage to Israel at a time the country is reeling under ‘dumso dumso’, no water, and strike actions by teachers and other workers.
A statement signed by Minister of Youth and Sports Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah, coordinator of the trip to Israel, claimed the trip would cost $600,000, which is equivalent to GH¢1,200,000 or ¢12billion.
However, DAILY GUIDE sources said it would cost more than that.
Reeling under a barrage of criticisms from the public and even pastors, the minister, who had earlier arrogantly thrown off DAILY GUIDE reporters who contacted him for his comments, said the trip would be funded by ‘Ghanaian philanthropists’.
He however failed to disclose the names or identities of those philanthropists and their relationship with government, making the issue murkier.
“… with the increase in the number of pilgrims, some Ghanaian philanthropists offered to provide sponsorship for this year’s trip,” he explained in a statement issued over the weekend after playing hide and seek with the issue for some time.
However, Afriyie-Ankrah, the Campaign Coordinator of the John Mahama 2012 Presidential Campaign, failed to indicate the identity of the said philanthropists, leaving room for wild speculations.
The statement came almost a week after he vowed to respond to the allegations set out in media reports about the involvement of government in the trip that was said to cost $2million and had drawn widespread rejection from the Christian community.
In the statement, the Minister of Youth and Sports arrogantly claimed the media exposé was “total fabrications and a pack of lies geared at tarnishing the image of the President and government”.
Explaining the circumstances surrounding the highly criticized trip, he said, “Over the years, various Christian and church organizations have called on government to sponsor and address the various challenges they have encountered during their holy trips to Israel. It is in response to these several calls that Government then decided to facilitate and coordinate the pilot pilgrimage to Israel, to help address some of the challenges Christian groups have encountered on past trips which is nothing new just as government has been doing for the Holy Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj to Mecca.”
Initially, DAILY GUIDE sources indicated that the trip would cost the country about $2million, with each lucky pastor getting $10,000 as per diem. But in the statement, Mr. Afriyie-Ankrah said the total cost was pegged at $600,000.
“The total cost of the sponsorship package for the 200 pilgrims which includes airfare, hotels and feeding is approximately $600,000, and not $2million as sensationally claimed by the false reports. It is absolutely untrue that each pilgrim will be given $10,000 as per diem,” he claimed.
“Again for the records, the government is NOT sponsoring the trip from the state coffers but 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’.”
On February 15, 2013, Mr. Afriyie-Ankrah wrote to all Christian bodies to nominate at least 10 members each for the holy trip. Some, like the Catholic Secretariat, were given 25 slots.
The letter was strangely written on the letterhead of the State Protocol Office even though Mr. Afriyie-Ankrah normally has no jurisdiction over the State Protocol Department.
The letter (Reference number SPO.C/09) signed by him and addressed to one such Christian body, a copy of which is available to DAILY GUIDE read: “The Government of the Republic of Ghana has secured sponsorship to take Two Hundred (200) Ghanaians from the Christian Community on a pilgrimage to Israel. Your Council has been allocated ten (10) slots from the list.”
Critics had questioned government’s logic as regards prioritizing the Israeli pilgrimage at this time of national crisis—when government finances were in shambles and supply of basic amenities had virtually ceased—and the equation of Christian Pilgrimage to Islamic Hajj.
According to critics, there was no basis for equating Christian pilgrimage to Islamic Hajj pilgrimage. While the Hajj pilgrimage is a compulsory requirement for Muslims, being one of the five basic pillars of Islam; Christian pilgrimage is totally voluntary and pilgrims usually fund the trips themselves.
Investigation by DAILY GUIDE indicated that the bulk of the Christian bodies had rejected government’s offer, describing the move as a “misplaced priority”.
The General Secretary of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Apostle Samuel Yaw Antwi, confirmed the rejection to DAILY GUIDE last week, saying the Christian bodies “collectively agreed that the timing was not right,” hence when the invitation officially hit their tables, they rejected it.
According to Apostle Yaw Antwi, the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, the National Catholic Secretariat, the Christian Council and the National Association of Charismatic Churches (NACC)-Headed by Arch-Bishop Nicholas Duncan Williams, rejected the proposal from the government.
The council’s reasons included the fact that Ghana was currently bedevilled with numerous socio-economic crisis including agitations for pay increases by workers such as doctors and lately, teachers; with pressures on the country’s finances and erratic supply of utilities.
Indeed, on Wednesday, Bishop Joseph Osei Bonsu, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference warned its members not to accept the offer from government, suggesting that whoever wanted to go on a pilgrimage should personally fund their trip and that one did not need to go to Israel before they could pray.
Bishop Osei Bonsu described the decision as misplaced, adding that government had no business involving itself in Christian pilgrimage.
“To me, looking at the economic issues at stake, I don’t think that the timing is right. What is the idea?” Bishop Addai Mensah, the General Overseer of Gospel-Light International Church and a member of NACC, told DAILY GUIDE in a telephone conversation on Monday.
However, in the face of the widespread rejection, Mr. Afriyie-Ankrah indicated that several pastors would be flown to Israel.
“It is deeply heart-warming that even at the time of releasing this statement, several Christian organizations, churches and pastors have requested, appealed and submitted names to be added to the list. For them, the opportunity to trace the footsteps of Jesus Christ and walk where he walked, pray for their families, their churches and their country Ghana, is an opportunity they do not want to miss and a potential life transforming event,” he said in the statement.
According to unconfirmed reports last Saturday, some pastors from the Assemblies of God left for Israel as part of the advance party.
The President and his wife are staunch members of the Assemblies of God, with church putting up newspaper adverts and giant billboards to congratulate the First Lady, Lordina Mahama, on her 50th birthday anniversary.
Source: Daily Guide/Ghana
Below is a copy of the statement: