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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Columnist: Anzagra, Solomon

Oil with Democracy: what does it portend for Ghana?

The discovery of oil within the shores of Ghana did not only raise local interest but also drew the attention of the business community around the world. But more attention was attracted from global oil ventures when research had found out that about 41 percent of the country’s land mass is occupied by oil. This has apparently increased Ghanaian’s expectation of the likely dollars that will flow into the country and has called for a revamp and strengthening of the administrative structures that are either directly or indirectly involved in not only the management of oil but the country’s natural resources at large.

The recent discovery made in the Owo oil field by the British firm, Tullow Oil PLC, which ranges from 70 million barrels to 550 million in addition to the earlier discoveries has indicated that nature has decided to turn the fortunes of this country round but it takes the right human commitment to get these fortunes to the people to whom they belong. Ghana like any many oil-rich countries has the high possibility of encountering oil related problems if her oil issues are not handled with expediency. It is therefore absolutely imperative that we learn from the past of those countries that have had oil as a big sign of natural blessing only to ironically realize that oil was the main source of their woes and source of their political and socio-economic retardation.

With reference to the past, Ghana should also be able to draw conclusions from other natural resources it has been tapping over a number of years now. Let us never forget that gold was once deemed necessary to give the country a name. Yet many years of extracting this natural endowment have not made any significant reflection in the lives of the majority peasants not even those whose family lands have been used in the extraction of it. According to the 2008 World Bank Report, Ghana has lacked the competence to properly collect revenues and audit payments for the gold-mining companies during the past three years as gold prices increased significantly. This therefore indicates that there is an urgent need for the restructuring of our policies constructively, pertaining to the extraction and usage of these resources or continue to be dreamers of development and not realizing it.

Oil and Democracy
Nobody needs to be told that oil with democracy is the right dosage of medication that Ghana needs for the treatment of its perennial sickness of many of her populace living under chronic poverty. Now, Ghana should see corruption and embezzlement as the real enemies of the development of the economy. Because it is inarguably these two that can digress the significance of oil find on the local populace of this country who are mostly the highest poverty stricken section of our today’s society. At this moment of our numerous strives for development and improved wellbeing, every single Ghanaian should see corruption and embezzlement therefore, as real serious threats to our prosperity. The current fall in corruption level, according to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2010, from 3.9 out of 10 of last year to 4.1 out of 10 of this year shows how the Ghanaian is still firmly gripped by the clutches of corruption and manacles of embezzlement. This therefore calls for concerted efforts than before in the fight against corruption in the Ghanaian society. This is not the time to be complacent for we can do better than Singapore and Costa Rica. Let us all contribute our quota to fight against these to enhance our development. Those countries like Singapore that have very low levels of corruption did not use guns or unlawful means to fight for it. It all rested on attitude and nothing else. The cases of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea indicate a clear manifestation of the fact that Africa is prone to corruption and embezzlement especially when it comes to the management of oil revenues. But it is not far from right to say that misuse or misappropriation of oil incomes partly stems from the lack of direction in the usage of their oil incomes that provides the leaders the chance to squander their oil incomes. This therefore calls for the urgent need of the noble Ghanaian and all development partners to join hands to seek legal considerations in addressing issues surrounding the misuse of oil incomes without fear or favour. This would augment our genuine fight to prevent our nation from being stripped of its wealth and make poverty a thing of the past. It must be noted that Venezuela is been one of the giant suppliers of oil in the world yet with its leaders being chained in the shackles of corruption the Venezuelan economy has not being making a headway in its quest for international recognition. This is attributed to the obscure handling of economic gains of oil. The government and other oil companies in the country in their oil transactions both nationally and internationally are stuck in the patch of secrecy.

By all standards, it is been obvious that democracy in the Ghanaian society is growing at an appreciable rate compared to other African countries and even countries of the western world where democracy is perceived to have originated. This time should be seen as the greatest opportunity for Ghana’s development. But it must be borne in mind that until democracy is fully nurtured into maturity our development dreams may simply be a mirage. This indicates that oil transactions and dealings must be as transparent as possible. This is not the time to consider national economic transactions confidential and secret. But to realize that the ordinary Ghanaian deserves to have basic knowledge about how his resources are being managed and this call for the urgent need for the right to information bill to be passed into law as early as possible. It is also prominently paramount that the local content concerning the extraction of not only oil but the nation’s natural resources be given the due consideration in every single advance made. With this eluding the country, not even a single effect will trickle down to the local folks who should now be our singular target in the fight against poverty and consequently achieving the MDGs.

Conclusion
What finally sounds to be the tone of absolute urgency is the need for Ghana to draw knowledge from the experiences of other countries who discovered oil as a sign of prosperity but which ironically turned to be the source of their woes and despair. It therefore implies that Ghana needs the right personnel, the right policies, and the right logistics. And all importantly the right attitude to ensure that what belongs to Ghana gets to Ghanaians. For right policies, it is imperative the country follows the basic principles of the Natural Resource Charter and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

The author, Solomon Anzagra is at the Department of Planning, KNUST – Kumasi [email: sanzagra@yahoo.com]