Since December 2010 when production commenced at the Jubilee oilfield, thus making Ghana a commercial producer for the first time, there have been several controversies that have grabbed the public’s attention because of the secrecy in which the actions behind them were shrouded. Worryingly they have permeated every aspect of upstream activity, from the terms and conditions of petroleum agreements entered into by the State, questionable revenue intakes, to equally dubious spending of those revenues.
Over the past decade there have been numerous calls for more transparency and accountability in Ghana’s young upstream oil and gas industry and this newspaper risks sounding like a broken record as it renews these calls. However, we are taking that risk simply because of the huge importance of improved transparency and accountability in the sector; and the fact that few lessons seem to have been learned over the past decade of acquiring experience.
The assessment of the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), given this week at a series of training workshops on natural resource governance for journalists, is damning. Simply put, Ghana still has too few laws and regulations aimed at ensuring adequate transparency and accountability in the country’s upstream oil and gas industry and even where the laws are adequate, their enforcement or compliance often is not.
For instance, in line with the provisions of the Petroleum Management & Revenue Act 2016 (Act 919), two websites have been established to provide the public with information on the petroleum agreements and other contracts the State has entered into with the various operators in the sector. But neither Ghana petroleum register .com nor Ghana lr 2018.com, the two websites established, provide this information in any detail.
Perhaps the most absurd example of the lack of transparency and accountability by the State in this regard, is that whereby in response to a simple request for information from NRGI required by law to be made public, the Institute was tasked to get a vote by Parliament acquiescing to the request.
Institutions such as the Public Interest and Accountability Committee, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the NRGI itself are all working hard to bring more transparency and accountability to the sector but none of them has the legal authority to enforce compliance by the State or even the private operators with whom it does business.
The latest example of how secrecy is denying Ghana’s public of information they deserve to be given is the controversy surrounding the petroleum agreement being applied for Aker Energy’s impending development and operation of the Pecan oilfield which will be far and away Ghana’s biggest and therefore easily its most important. Experts from both PIAC and NRGI explain that the confirmation or otherwise of the allegations made by IMANI Africa in this matter can be derived from one simple piece of information – whether or not Hess, from whom Aker inherited the exploration block, delivered an exploration report to the Ministry at the end of its activities. Curiously, the Ministry has so far declined to provide this simple, but issue-determining information.
A change of attitude by those in the relevant State institutions is direly, and urgently needed and for their own good. If their tendency to kept secrets illegally and unnecessarily continues unabated they will be found guilty of malfeasance in the court of public opinion even where they would deserve to be found innocent in a proper court of law.