How Ghana's oil will benefit its people is dependent on the choices the nation through its leaders will make, says a Senior Researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
According to Lorenzo Cotula, Ghana may decide to play the game its own way or follow the paths of the likes of Nigeria and Chad, which undoubtedly are bad examples to copy. Whatever choice Ghana makes can "go horribly wrong," he cautioned.
But "You are in a good position because you have neighbours with examples," he consoled.
Mr. Cotula was speaking to the Public Agenda in Accra at the closure of a workshop organized by the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in conjunction with the IIED. The theme for the workshop was "Legal Empowerment on Petroleum Contracts - Strengthening Voice and Accountability in Ghana's Oil and Gas Sector."
The objectives of the workshop included to strengthen government capacity to negotiate oil and gas contracts that maximize sustainable development, as well as, civil society, media and parliamentary capacity to scrutinize these negotiations. It was also to pave the way to a longer-term process of multi-stakeholder dialogue to maximize the contribution of investment in oil and gas to sustainable development.
Mr. Cotula intimated that the collaboration with CEPIL was going to be continued. He encouraged continuous gathering of stakeholders to brainstorm on the experiences and lessons of other countries from where strategic choices can be made for Ghana.
Representatives from Ghana had at the back of their minds experiences from other sectors of the extracted industry, especially mining. The experiences of the advocacy group, the Wassa Association of Communities affected by Mining (WACAM), have shown that little development has gone to communities where mining has taken place.
WACAM's activities brought to the fore many violations of the rights of people including inadequate compensation for people who lost their lands to the mining companies.
But the recent discovery of commercially viable oil deposits in Ghana has raised hopes for improving living standards.
In an extract, the organizers pointed out that " experience shows that oil revenues do not automatically translate in better living standards." Rather, the quality of governance and project-specific arrangements define the distribution of costs, risks and benefits, and the extent to which investment contributes to sustainable development goals like poverty reduction and environmental protection.
One of the issues of concern was the lack of information on the activities of mining companies, fuelling fears of similar practices in the oil sector. More information means better transparency.
It will be recalled that in its 2008 Report on Revenue Transparency of Oil and Gas Companies, the Transparency International (TI) recommended among others that Governments from oil and gas producing countries should introduce legislation mandating revenue transparency by all companies operating in their territories. It also urged regulatory agencies and companies should agree to publish information in a uniform and accessible format, one that facilitates both comprehension and comparability.
Credit: Public Agenda