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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Columnist: Ayamga, Elizabeth Alampae

Youth Conference on Oil and Gas exposes weakness in Policy

When I was invited for the National Youth Conference on Oil and Gas on the theme “Engendering Youth Participation in Ghana’s Oil and Gas Economy”, little did I know is was going to be an Expectation Management Conference. I call it Expectations Management Conference because all my expectations before the conference were demystified after the conference. It was therefore so clear how the government and policy makers have neglected the youth of Ghana when formulating policies.
Most participants including myself knew nothing or little about the oil industry. I was therefore not surprised when a participant stated categorically that she never knew oil is a finite resource. If you ask me, I will say you should blame the government and all policy makers in the country. The youth of Ghana are not properly consulted on oil and gas issues.
Conflict
This indicates a good governance deficit since young people constitute more than half of Ghana’s population, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census. It is necessary to take a cue from the conflict arising from oil production and the revenues from oil in the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Angola. We need to actively involve young people in the industry. This is one of the surest means to reduce the tendency of the youth in frontline oil producing communities to resort to conflict. Let us listen to young people and factor their concerns into oil wealth management strategies to forestall disappointment, disillusionment, and ultimately conflict.
YOUNET conducted a research on the expectations of the Ghanaian youth in the oil and gas sector which measured the youth’s: level of understanding on oil and gas issues; level of participation in decision-making on oil and gas; expectations on oil and gas including the expectations of frontline communities: Bonyere and Ezinlibo; proposals on how the oil wealth should be used.
Out of 5361 out of 6000 questionnaires were returned and used for the data analysis.
The outcome of the research revealed that the expectations of the youth with regards to the oil and gas exploration and production are generally very high. About 81% of the respondents have “very high” or “high” expectations with Upper East, Western, and Volta Regions having higher expectations than the 81% average”. Respondents expected the oil production to bring about economic growth, more jobs, better infrastructure and improved standard of living. They also expect a socially just distribution of oil resources/wealth (proceeds, revenues, associated programmes and projects) to avoid possible unrest and disparities between north-south, rich and poor.

Expectation

Of those in the “very high” expectation bracket, the percentage drops as the level of education of the respondents increases with about 12% of postgraduate respondents indicating “very low” expectation on the prospects of the oil and gas.

In order of importance, the youth would like the oil wealth to be spent on Education and training, Health care, Infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, communication etc), improve agriculture practices, and Save and invest for future generations.

On issues of governance, transparency and accountability, the research showed that a high percentage (55%) of the youth of Ghana does not trust politicians who will manage the oil wealth because of Dutch Disease, over-spending, uncontrollable budget deficits, weak institutions, corruption, and lack of transparency in oil revenue management.

The youth have high interest and willingness (as 61% disagreed that the youth will not benefit from the Oil and Gas resources) to participate in decision-making processes and discussions concerning oil production and management of oil wealth.

64.43% of the youth (respondents) think non-Ghanaians will benefit more from the oil production than Ghanaians because many oil companies are foreign-owned and require highly professional and technical staff. Hence, Ghanaians may not fit in immediately. Besides, many of the agreements with these oil companies are not published and remain a secret. This will have implications for local content issues.

Reflections

This research by YOUNET was a true reflection of the thoughts of almost all participants at the conference which manifested during the moderated dialogue between the participants and resource persons.

It is therefore recommended that government plan for diversification of the economy to avoid Dutch Disease. This could be done by modernizing agriculture. Farmers must be given the education to adopt mechanized way of farming to enlarge their farms to increase productivity. This brings to the fore the problem of lack of sponsorship from the GETFund and scholarships secretariat not putting premium on agriculture. Most students who want sponsorship to study agriculture and its related programmes are turned down because after the discovery of oil, the sector has not been a priority area. In order to prevent post-harvest losses, the government should revamp already existing factories and establish new ones to absorb the farm produce. The natural resource findings should be seen as just basic solutions to economic problems and a step towards industrialization.

Most importantly, the youth should be educated to diversify their thoughts and ideas to take advantage of the other sectors of the economy. Of course we were told that job opportunities in the industry at the moment are limited. The best way the youth can contribute to the industry is through policy making and making good use of other related sectors like the service sector.

Management of expectation

There should be expectations management by publicly announcing how much oil can flow; expected oil revenues and its management policies and strategies. Young people should be provided with legal knowledge on the terms and conditions of the oil contracts signed by the government and the oil companies because many youth do not know or have any idea with regard to the presence of specific legal arrangements or policies on oil production. Workshops and conferences should be organised for the youth to sensitize them on the oil and gas industry.

There should be more transparency and accountability by passing the Ghana EITI bill, among others. Public Interest and Accountability Committee should be resourced to perform its role effectively and local content issues deemed as very important.

Government should bring out policies which will give opportunities for internship and training offered by oil companies. This will be mutually beneficial since the industry require highly qualified expertise with much experience on the field.

There should be good and strong relationship between oil companies and local people based on mutual trust and respect, with environmental mitigation projects as well as Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) interventions. There should be media platforms created by government to generate interactions between the youth, their leaders and oil producing companies.

This is why the youth of Ghana are calling on the government and all policy makers to allow the youth to also make their contributions to national issues because the long term effects of which ever decisions the leaders make today will be on the youth in future.

Elizabeth Alampae Ayamga
Email: cuteayamga@yahoo.com