Oil 'hot spot' Ghana must proceed with caution

By mborum

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WASHINGTON — On the verge of an oil boom that could bring billions into the country, Ghana must make significant changes to support transparent, accountable and efficient development of this industry and the billions in government revenue it will generate, says a new report from international aid agency Oxfam America and the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), based in Accra, Ghana.

Ghana's recent discovery the major offshore "Jubilee" oil field has generated enormous interest in the country's oil production potential. While this would seem to be good news for Ghana, historically, the exploitation of natural resources in Africa has far too often led to increased poverty and conflict, a phenomenon often referred to as "resource curse."

"In too many countries, oil booms have bred corruption, underdevelopment, social conflict and environmental damage. Ghana's challenge as an 'oil hot spot' will be to ensure the right institutions and transparent policies are in place before production even begins," said Ian Gary, Senior Policy Advisor for Extractive Industries at Oxfam America and author of the report Ghana's Big Test: Oil's Challenge to Democratic Development, which will be introduced today at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The report identifies critical steps for the Ghanaian government, donors, oil companies, civil society and journalists to take in order to move quickly but deliberately in the face of the coming oil boom. These include transparent revenue and payment practices, open and competitive contract bidding, and active monitoring and participation by civil society. The report also recommends that the government enact a moratorium on signing new licenses, so they can organize an open bidding round and allow the country's legal and institutional framework to "catch up" to the pace of oil development.

"While these steps are not, by themselves, a simple recipe for overcoming the threats posed by the coming oil boom, it is difficult to see Ghana succeeding without them," said Gary.

Last year, Africa produced 12.5 percent of the world’s oil with great investment and exploration throughout the continent, but this has yet to translate into tangible benefits for Africa's poor. In fact, resource-rich countries in Africa have actually experienced lower growth rates than countries with scarce resources.

Ghana is one of the most peaceful and relatively prosperous countries in West Africa but remains poor with almost 80 percent of Ghanaians living on less than $2 a day. After democratic elections and a successful transition of power last month, Ghana’s new National Democratic Congress government hopes that oil revenues will help accelerate the country’s effort to meet UN Development Goals by 2015.

By 2011, estimates are that Ghana will be producing approximately 120,000 barrels of oil per day, along with significant quantities of gas. (The Jubilee field has 600 million barrels of proven reserves and 1.2 billion barrels of probable reserves.) The International Monetary Fund has predicted that government revenues from oil and gas could reach a cumulative $20 billion over a production period of 2012-2030 in Jubilee field alone. On Feb. 19, The World Bank board will consider $215 million in financing to Kosmos Energy and Tullow Oil in support of the development of the Jubilee field.

"Ghana's enviable record of good governance and stability makes this test even more urgent. Oil wealth threatens the growing democratic accountability that has been built in our country's recent history," said Steve Manteaw, media and campaigns coordinator for ISODEC. "The history of natural resource exploitation in West Africa has shown us just how vulnerable the people of Ghana will be without sufficient systems to properly manage oil wealth."

Ghana is no stranger to the natural resource industry. During the British colonial era, Ghana was known as the "Gold Coast" for its prolific gold deposits. With mining law reforms and changes to investment rules in the last 20 years, Ghana has recently experienced a boom in mining investment. But gold mining has led to small government revenues, increased conflict between companies and local communities, the removal of families from their lands, and increased environmental degradation. Coastal communities have seen how this industry has left mining communities, and they fear the same fate.

The problems of resource-rich countries combating the "resource curse" have recently risen to the top of the international development agenda with efforts to increase revenue transparency across the oil, gas, and mining industries. The report is being released on the eve of the fourth global conference of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) taking place in Doha from February 16-18. EITI is a voluntary initiative designed to increase transparency of payments by companies to governments. While some progress has been made, the EITI has had limited reach. Ghana has published reports under this initiative, but has not been fully committed to extend this work to the petroleum sector. In the United States, the Extractive Industry Transparency Disclosure (EITD) bill was introduced in the House and Senate in 2008. This legislation, expected for reintroduction in 2009, would require all oil, gas, and mining companies registered with the SEC to disclose their payments to host countries and extend transparency as a truly global standard for company operations.

"While some progress has been made to increase transparency in resource-rich states, secrecy around revenues is just one part of the resource curse, and much more work remains to be done to prepare Ghana for the coming oil boom," said Gary.