Under the auspices of the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, civil society organizations in Ghana have raised concerns about Ghana’s ability to ensure transparent, accountable, and sustainable management of its petroleum resources.
In November, Ghana began full-scale oil production; now civil society organizations are working to keep the expected economic boom from pushing Ghana into poverty and corruption-- what is known as the “oil curse” of many developing countries rich in resources yet suffering in poverty.
Oxfam America has been supporting watchdog groups in Ghana to help ensure that Ghana’s recent democratic and development gains are not threatened by a sudden influx of oil wealth. Ghana is set to receive more than $1 billion in oil revenues in 2011.
The Civil Society Platform has been engaging with government to influence legislation that ensures transparent management of Ghana’s new oil wealth; many civil society recommendations have been incorporated into the bill that is now before Ghana’s parliament. Activists are still concerned that key provisions could be stripped out and have mounted an unprecedented petition campaign aimed at parliament. Using text messages, Facebook, email action alerts, radio and television advertisements and other tools, activists in Ghana gathered over 41,000 names of Ghanaians within the country and abroad.
In November, the group marched to parliament to submit the petition. The group is particularly concerned with proposed amendments to the law “that provide for a citizens-based transparency and accountability framework for ensuring transparent management of petroleum revenues,” said Mohammed Amin Adam, the convener of the group. “We are equally disturbed about the absence of transparency provisions in the bill which does not provide for competitive bidding process for oil blocs”.
The group welcomes a provision of the bill for a Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) has been a big relief to many Ghanaians as it gives the citizens a say in the emerging industry.
The platform has insisted that parliament makes provision for disclosure of petroleum agreements in the proposed bill, open and competitive bidding process for acquiring oil licenses, and timelines for the establishment of an Independent Petroleum Regulatory Authority -- as opposed to the limitless powers enjoyed by the minister of energy, among others.
According to Richard Hato-Kuevor, extractive industries advocacy officer for Oxfam America, “the contribution of civil society organizations to the evolution of the oil industry in Ghana has been positive and significant.” He noted that, “had it not been for their intervention, we would have had a very weak bill, which would have translated into a weak law and an oil industry that has set off on the wrong footing.”
Oxfam America works with a coalition of civil society organizations in Ghana to ensure transparency and accountability in the emerging oil industry in Ghana. Ghana has a long history of extractive industry activities, but like many West African countries, the presence of abundant natural resources has not meant the reduction of poverty.
“Transparency and accountability are essential elements to ensuring that the citizens of Ghana gain the maximum benefits from our natural resources,” said Adam.