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Opinions of Thursday, 2 June 2016

Columnist: Marlvin-James Dadzie

“Oily questions” awaits Mahama

As the 2016 electioneering campaign draws closer, my impatient ears await its utmost desire of knowing what explanation President Mahama would be professing to the people of Western Region regarding how oil revenues have been used to improve their living conditions.

My trembling ears also wait anxiously for answers as to whether government has created opportunities for Ghanaians in the oil and gas sector in line with the country’s local content objectives.

These are pressing questions not for only me but many residents of the region.

As I wait quietly with an uneasy calm for detail explanation from the first gentleman of the land on these important issues, one thing remains certain in my mind- propaganda tinged with new promises would take larger part of the president’s answers on these matters when he finally hits the campaign trail later this year.

Yes, I’m certain! And you’ll agree with me after I had walked you through government’s performance on these matters and how its communication machinery is forcing down the throat of Ghanaians to accept the shameful performance whole-heartedly.

Ninety percent local participation in the oil and gas sector by 2020 was the target government set for itself when Ghana begun commercial oil production in 2010. This would require rapid training of the country’s human resource to enable it grab opportunities in the sector and that, government was committed to doing exactly so, we were told.

In essence, training for locals, especially those in the Western Region, were going to be made available to equip Ghanaians with the requisite skills to enable them take up opportunities in the petroleum sector.

Besides, government was to address the poor road network in the region, especially in the northern part of the region to enhance the carting of food stuffs to market centers, as a way of boosting agriculture.

These promises were made after government had turned down the controversial request of 10 percent share of the oil revenues for the Western Region made by the chiefs of the region. With these promises in mind, let me now take the issues one after the other.

Training of locals

Government’s performance in the training of locals for the oil sector has been abysmal, to say the least. The Jubilee Partners- Tullow, Kosmos, Anardako, Petrol SA and GNPC, seemed to have bought into government’s idea of equipping locals with skills for the sector, therefore, established the Jubilee Technical Training Center (JTTC) at the Takoradi Polytechnic.

JTTC was to build technical expertise for the sector through six months British accredited courses.

As a passing comment, let me say that it’s interesting that government now, is solely taking credit for the establishment of the JTTC just because GNPC which is a state-owned oil company, happens to be a member of the Jubilee Partners.

Assuming without admitting that government single-handedly established the JTTC, the fact remains that the JTTC as it stands now, is of little value to the poor youth of this country, including those in the Western Region who are seeking to acquire some skills to venture into the oil sector. Why?

Tuition fees alone for any of the six months courses offered at the center ranges beyond GHC10,000 (100 million old cedis). Yes! You heard me right.

How many parents can afford such a whopping sum for their wards to get trained?

Mind you, this amount alone can cater for two adults in pursuing a three-year HND programme at the polytechnic, covering all expenses including accommodation and even feeding.

I was therefore not surprise at all to learn that since the establishment of the JTTC in 2012, it has held only two congregations, comprising about 30 graduands from each of the two batches. Worst of it is that, foreigners comprised about half of the total graduands with the rest being employees of oil companies who were sent there by their respective employers to refresh their knowledge in their chosen fields.

So in this insensitive arrangement, I ask, where is the training opportunity for the poor Western Region youth?

Again, government knowing very well that the upstream petroleum sector (exploration and production) does not provide many job opportunities in areas of administration and management, many government scholarships offered to Ghanaians through GNPC were surprisingly directed in these areas. A large chunk of the few youth who had this rare opportunity of pursuing oil and gas management abroad through government scholarships have returned home jobless because the sector cannot absorb them.

In fact, a recent “tracking” conducted by the African Center for Energy Policy (ACEP) on the whereabouts of these returned scholarship beneficiaries revealed that out of the over 120 beneficiaries nationwide, not more 15 have been absorbed. The rest are either Tellers in banks, teaching in schools or engaged in some unrelated field. Is this in line with the local content we are seeking to achieve in the petroleum sector? Absolutely no!

The story of the Enterprise Development Center (EDC) in Takoradi is similar to that of the JTTC. The EDC was also established by the Jubilee Partners with the aim of equipping small and medium scale Ghanaian enterprises to become competitive in the petroleum sector. In this respect, enterprises were to enroll for a free three months course at the EDC.

The establishment of the EDC was particularly crucial since the downstream of the petroleum sector (supply and services) is the most viable area available to a country to maximize its benefits through local content participation. Sadly, there seems to be a disjoint between the standards the oil companies expect and what is being offered at the EDC.

Many local companies that have gone through EDC find it difficult securing contracts in the petroleum sector due to their inability to meet the standards of the sector.

As a result, local companies are no longer patronizing the EDC, though the center continues to offer free trainings. The oil companies continue to purchase almost all their supplies including food and water from outside Ghana.

Interestingly, there is a similar entity as the EDC in Uganda called Trade Links which is making headways in the local content advancement of that country. Set up by Tullow Oil in collaboration with the Ugandan government, Trade Links seeks to create a ready market in the country’s oil sector for local agriculture produce.

The center trains farmers and organizes them into cooperative societies. It then serves as a liaison between the cooperatives and the oil companies, ensuring ready market for the local produce.

Trade Links supervises the cooperatives and ensures that their produce meets the required standards, in the right quantity and supplied at the right time to the oil companies. Succinctly put, once a farmer enrolls at Trade Links, he automatically gets a market in the oil sector for his produce.

Uganda is yet to commence production of its oil but farmers are already reaping tremendous benefits from the oil sector through Trade Links. It is interesting to note that Yoweri Museveni, the dictatorial head of that country, seems to have a better clue of ensuring maximum citizenry benefits from country’s oil resource than the social democratic John Mahama.

Jobs for locals

The petroleum sector undoubtedly requires the acquisition of some skills and training for participation. Even in the supply and services sub-sector, some oriental training is needed because the sector does not compromise on standards. It is therefore clear that the lack of training in the sector has denied the youth of several job opportunities. Jobs have completely eluded the youth of the Western Region.

Today in the Western Region, it is not uncommon to find chiefs complaining at every given opportunity on how frustrated their youth have become. In many communities, sections of the youth are at loggerheads with their chiefs, accusing them of not doing enough to provide them with jobs in the oil sector. The situation is very disheartening and is preparing slippery grounds for chaos.

Roads Infrastructure

Let’s take a look at road infrastructure: Here too, government’s performance is awful. Addressing the poor road network in the region has not been fulfilled as promised.

The Asankragwa-Enchi road and the Asankragwa-Sefwi Bekwai- Eshiem road are the only two roads in the Western Region that are being funded partly by oil revenue since the commencement of oil production in 2010, according to reports by the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC).

Besides, the Elubo-Apimanim road is an ECOWAS project while the Tarkwa-Bogoso Ayumfuri road was also initiated by the erstwhile Kuffour administration with funding already sourced. So where is the road network construction President Mahama promised indigenes of the region? Many of the roads in the region remain deplorable especially those in the cocoa-growing areas.

Obviously, numerous pressing “oily questions” from the Western Region await President Mahama in the coming weeks. I also foresee a worsened plight for the president because government commentators seem to be aggravating the situation with their propagandist explanations, attempting to force indigenes to extol government’s abysmal performance.

No explanation from the corridors of power would suffice for the abject poverty that has bedeviled the Western Region in the midst of its abundant wealth.

The youth are frustrated, disenchanted and disoriented. The region is left with no other choice than to gather all energy within its reach and vote out President Mahama for his unfulfilled promises to the region.

I’ve said it

Marlvin-James Dadzie

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