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27.11.2010 Feature Article

More trouble in the oil zone…

More trouble in the oil zone…
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By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: [email protected]

November 27, 2010

The fire ignited by the demand for 10% of oil revenue by the chiefs of the Western Region is spreading fast even though the Parliamentary Committee had dismissed that demand without any hesitation and wished it would die a quick death. From the look of things, a new complexion has been added to the matter, which suggests that it is fast assuming partisan political dimensions.

Five members of the NPP have begun a campaign to have Parliament approve the request for 10% oil revenue by chiefs in the Western Region. The MPs have filed for an amendment to the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill currently before Parliament and have proposed the establishment of a Western Regional Development Fund into which 10% of the country's oil revenue will be put for the exclusive development of the Western Region.

The MP for Bimbilla, Dominic Nitiwul, who is championing this amendment insists that members of the group “don't trust any government, particularly the sitting government” to make good its promise to develop the Western Region with funds from the oil (Myjoyonline.com, November 26, 2010).

Nitiwul reveals the NPP group's main modus operandus: “...We are going to ensure that this thing is carried and there are several tactics we are going to use or weapons at our disposal, including challenging a voice vote and ensuring that we do a head count of this particular call because we are really serious with this call.”

This effort carries weight for as long as it will fuel the agitation to put the government on its mettle. For far too long, our governments have shirked their responsibilities and got away unscathed. The time has come to pull the strings now for this particular one to do the right thing as it gears up to approach voters for a renewal of its mandate or a painful rejection at the polls. It is sufficiently obvious that some people in government are already sitting on tenterhooks, knowing very well how this demand by the Western Region chiefs will prepare the minds of voters for December 2012.

I am, however, wary of the political motives behind this move by the NPP MPs, knowing very well how they will want to turn the issue in favour of their party. Playing to the gallery will be difficult to avoid. I anticipate that this peculiar problem will be blown out of all proportions and used to damage the NDC's interests. No one should attempt to take undue advantage of the genuine concerns of the chiefs. What the chiefs have brought up has more for us to ponder over than turning it into parochial political gains.

Advocating for the creation of a Western Regional Development Fund indicates that these NPP MPs are clear in their minds that the region has been denied its fair share of what others might have had so far and that the problem isn't new. Nor is it the creation of the NDC government. The hope is that this unique Fund should see a drastic change in the fate of the region if established and used accordingly. We already have several “Funds” for designated problem areas and adding this one to the lot may be part of the routine; but the issue goes beyond this perspective, which we must consider seriously.

We are aware of some previous initiatives such as the various Regional Development Corporations that were established to boost economic activities in the various regions but that folded up because of mismanagement. Of all, the Central Regional Development Commission seems to be the only one still on its feet even if not performing at or above capacity to provide the much-needed impetus for the development of the region. We have precedents to learn useful lessons from and must not do things on impulse.

We must be cautious in dealing with this case. On the surface, creating a Western Regional Development Fund in itself will set off other problems, especially if the other nine regions follow suit to demand their fair share of the revenues generated from resources in their environments. The short-term solution will be to create 10 Regional Development Funds to cater for all the regions in the country. If that happens, we may be biting off more than we can chew and have an unwieldy arrangement to grapple with.

Granted that the people of the Western Region have a genuine cause to complain about discrimination against the region in terms of development projects, the demand by the chiefs must be considered in its proper context. Knowing very well that there are appropriate institutions of state that are responsible for governance at the lower levels, did the chiefs deliberate with the District/Municipal/Metropolitan Assemblies or the Western Regional Coordinating Council over their demand before laying it before Parliament? If they did, what was the outcome that should reinforce their petition?

I am asking these questions because the chiefs can't initiate development projects on their own and expect to use funds from the national coffers without the involvement of the political authorities in their jurisdiction. To have a good basis for their demand, one expects the chiefs to have drawn up a development plan for which the 10% oil revenue was being demanded. If they didn't have any development plan to justify their demand, then, they have a big hurdle to jump.

It is not too late, however, for them to go to the drawing board in collaboration with the Regional Coordinating Council and the various District/Municipal/Metropolitan Assemblies in the region to formulate a reliable development agenda to warrant any allocation of funds to the region.

Doing anything outside the confines of the Local Government network will defeat the purposes behind the decentralization process. The country has a formidable local government system that is admired all over the world for its tenets. With the implementation of the Local Government Act (Act 462) over the years, the country is being governed through a three-tier network of political arrangements: National, Regional, and District/Municipal/Metropolitan levels.

Functionally, the national level is the super-ordinate political structure that superintends over governance of the entire country while the 10 Regional Coordinating Councils administer affairs in the regions, exercising their supervisory powers over the lower level (the District/Municipal/Metropolitan Assemblies) which takes charge of local-level governance. The parameters are clear. Thus, one can confidently say that administratively, each sector of local and national life is well catered for and that responsibility for development at the various levels shouldn't become a tug-of-war.

We know that the central government is supreme and has the final say in governance, especially as far as political appointments and the allocation of resources are concerned. That's why even though the District/Municipal/Metropolitan Assemblies and Regional Coordinating Councils are free to determine and initiate development projects for their localities, they still look up to the central government for the nod to carry them out.

In this case, one expects that any concerns about development projects should be properly dissected to know where to draw the line. The concerns of the Western Region can best be formulated through concerted efforts and channeled to the appropriate quarters for redress.

I implore the chiefs to mobilize all those that matter in the Western Region and send a powerful delegation to meet with President Mills over the matter. The mere fact that a Parliamentary Committee repudiated their demand shouldn't stop them from pursuing the matter any further. A delegation from the Western Region should consist of all identifiable interest groups and the matter impressed on the government to accept for serious consideration and action.

In pursuing this objective, they should be circumspect in their dealings so as not to allow any unscrupulous political group to hijack their genuine concerns and manipulate the situation to advantage. Anything short of that will cast doubts over their ambitions and create room for a misconstrual of their real motives.

Already, there are some heavy political undertones which indicate that unless the chiefs' demands are met, they will remain embittered and distance themselves from the NDC government in reprisal. Unless something happens to change their mood, then, the impact of their anger will be felt at the polls when translated into a “No Vote” syndrome against the NDC. As I can infer from Awulae Annor Adjaye's veiled threat of “There are many ways to kill a cat,” the anti-NDC politics has already begun.

That the NPP group has picked up the thread is, therefore, not surprising. In a sense, the heat will definitely be turned on the NDC government to make it unpopular if it fails to heed the demand by these chiefs. It is not to say that the NPP is better poised to meet the demands of the chiefs.

On a wider scale, although putting pressure on the government to meet the chiefs' demand may be seen as unfortunate, it seems to have a good side to it. If for nothing at all, it seems to be the beginning of many new things to happen in Ghanaian politics when the people will rise up to demand accountability from their leaders. If aspiring public office holders make promises to enter political office with the nod from voters but fail to fulfill those promises, they must be brought to book. That's the meaning I read into what is unfolding.

What the Western Region chiefs have begun will definitely blaze the trail. It will also awaken our leaders into behaving responsibly because they will always be hounded by the demand for “probity and accountability.” This is the time for this principle to be applied to the full and those who fall short of expectations shown the exit at the polls.

Certainly, some people in government must be cursing their stars for what has begun unfolding. Let's take on these politicians to deprive them of sleep so that they will turn attention to what they are in office to do—govern with all seriousness to solve the problems that have continued to make Ghanaians live in narrow circumstances. When they feel the heat, they will sit up; otherwise, they will continue to consider political office-holding as the panacea to their personal economic problems and continue to fool about with the privileges that they confer on themselves.

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