With drilling scheduled to begin in a matter of months, can Ghana beat the oil curse?That’s the question up for debate right now, as this relatively poor country prepares for the coming of an estimated $1-billion-a-year industry.
Too often, poor communities have no say in the extraction of resources from their land and receive little information about these projects. Oxfam’s Right to Know, Right to Decide campaign calls on oil, gas, and mining companies and governments to respect the rights of poor people and contribute to the long-term reduction of poverty.
On April 26, Oxfam America hosted a panel in Washington, DC to discuss some of the next steps on oil drilling in Ghana—a country where gold mining has already affected thousands of communities. Panelists included His Excellency Daniel Ohene Agekum, ambassador of Ghana to the US; Mohammed Amin Adam, national oil coordinator for Publish What You Pay Ghana; and Ian Gary, Oxfam's extractive industries policy manager.
To avoid this “resource curse,” Adam said, the government of Ghana needs to create new laws, regulations, and institutions that can handle the billions of dollars in new revenue coming in to the country. Such laws much make sure that those funds benefit local people, 80 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day.
Among other recommendations, he called on the government to do the following:
- Fully disclose all revenue contracts with oil companies, so that people know how much the government is making from oil profits and can call for their fair share;
- Pass an oil revenue management law with an emphasis on transparency before the first drilling starts;
- Use oil revenues for public investment—like schools, roads, and hospitals—rather than private consumption.
Ambassador Agekum said the government of Ghana is working to make sure that the oil funds are used transparently and for the benefit of communities. He cited public consultations and a recently published preliminary proposal for oil revenue management, though much more remains to be done.
"The greatest asset that we have … is the people of Ghana. And that is why, as a policy, it is our determination to ensure that the interests of the people of Ghana are respected at all times,” said Agekum. “When the oil has come and gone... we [must] have a quality of life that is much better than we have had so far."
Adam acknowledged these efforts and called for the government to pass laws to protect people’s rights over the long term. “The attitude of government towards transparency is very positive... but future governments may not be the same, and this is why we are calling for legislative transparency initiatives,” he said.
“Ghana has come a long way in our democratic development. I believe this is one of the reasons why President Obama visited Ghana [in 2009],” concluded Adam. “[But] if oil exploitation will increase poverty levels, if it will bring hunger, then an important aspect of democracy is being neglected."