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General News of Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Source: Public Agenda

Government Doubletalk On Transparency

Accra — The government's apparent classification of the contents of the draft governing policy for the oil and gas sub-sector has met the disapproval of Research and Advocacy Organisations (RAOs) as well as key opinion leaders.

Presently, government is keeping the details of the policy close to its chest except that it has modestly distributed the "Local Content and Local Participation in Petroleum Activities - Policy Framework" which is only a microcosm of the policy document.

"We've been seriously trying to get this document for close to a year now...We haven't seen the document so I was surprised when we were told that these documents are available and we could get it."

"It's been tough and they are holding things very close to their chest and nobody seems to know what their motivation is," Ishmael Edjekumhene, Director of Kite told Public Agenda at a two-day annual RAO convention on oil and gas governance in Ghana, which ended in Accra on Tuesday. It was organized by the Ghana Research and Advocacy Programme (G-RAP) on the theme: "Transparency, Accountability and Development of the Oil and Gas Industry in Ghana." The convention deliberated on policy, legal and institutional frameworks, social implications of the oil find, local participation in the oil industry, and revenue management issues.

RAOs worry is informed by the fact that government, by this posture, is double speaking on its commitment to transparency as its failure to share the policy document means a limitation on the number of key actors in society, including communities, which can make input to the document.

Many believe the emerging oil and gas industry in Ghana is of critical importance. Consequently, the negative experiences of other oil-rich African countries and Ghana's own negative experiences of the exploitation and management of natural resources, particularly minerals and forest resources, should serve as caution to the nation.

According to Mr Edjekumhene, before the preparation of any policy document, it is important that the input of civil society should be elicited right at the beginning and not at the end. Civil society is not only supposed to react to policies but be part of the formulation process. "We are not only supposed to review policies, we are to make our inputs," the Director of Kite said.

There is consensus that countries that have turned oil into a blessing had displayed certain visible factors - transparency, a large measure of national integrity and prudent management. The conviction of many is that government must demonstrate these tenets in order to avoid a doublespeak.

Chairman for the opening of the RAO convention, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhene of Esikado Traditional Area in the Western Region, regretted that "The art of doublespeaking is becoming a national virtue."

He reminded participants that oil in the West African sub region has brought out the worst of humanity, fuelling corruption and conflict. He pointed out, "The humanity in Ghana is not different from our African brothers and sisters. There is nothing to stop us from running down the same path except ourselves. Only we can check ourselves and so far we have done poorly about checking ourselves."

Reactions from public officials have been less than convincing and rather confusing. While Mr Kwaku Boateng, Acting Director of Petroleum, Ministry of Energy, said the framework was only at the draft stage and not yet finalized, Mr Michael Opam, Director of Policy at the same Ministry, said the framework was completed and was part of the larger energy policy and will be distributed.

Earlier, Prof Kwame Ninsin, Vice-Chairman, G-RAP Board had said: "We must endeavour to ensure that governance structures that are instituted for managing the oil and gas economy are transparent and accountable."

He recommended that "Any governance structure that is established by the proposed laws must ensure that citizens of this country, and especially those of the oil and gas communities, have a voice in the policy dialogue regarding this industry."

The RAOs are also not oblivious of the motivation for keeping a people in ignorance - simply to exploit them.