Ghana’s Oil Debate Comes to Washington

VIDEO: Watch the 1 June discussion on Ghana, oil and accountability.

Major Daniel Ablorh-Quarcoo, chairman of Ghana’s pioneering citizen oversight committee for oil, joined RWI and Oxfam America in Washington, D.C. last week to talk about his country’s prospects for successful, sustainable management of oil wealth.

A new player in the market, Ghana is working to avoid the problems that have plagued its neighbor Nigeria in harnessing oil wealth for the public good. The country has made significant strides with the passage of recent legal reforms, including the establishment in 2011 of the 13-member Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) led by Maj. Ablorh-Quarcoo.

Also joining the 1 June panel were Mohammed Amin Adam, Coordinator of Africa Against Poverty, RWI economic analyst Andrew Bauer, and moderator Ian Gary of Oxfam America, along with more than 50 attendees and over 200 webcast viewers.

Discussion focused on the PIAC report published 17 May, which uncovered several issues and discrepancies in Ghana’s oil sector reporting, such as the wide gap between government revenue projections for 2011, which stood at 1.25 billion Ghanaian cedis, and the actual 2011 figure, which reached only 666 million cedis, roughly $350 million. This shortfall was mainly due to a failure to consider that most tax revenue remains unavailable while the sector is still coming online.

“If you build up the people’s expectations only to come back on your word, you defeat the confidence the people have built in you as a government,” said Maj. Ablorh-Quarcoo. “The more information shared, the better the people will understand what’s going on,” he said, citing a fundamental mission of the PIAC.

The committee report urged the government to follow the letter of the law when forecasting revenues, because the projections determine what the country should save as well as spend. “It is one thing to have a good law, but what’s more important is how that law is implemented,” said Mr. Adam.

The report also called attention to the Saltpond oil field, a smaller yet still significant discovery just off the central coast of Ghana. Adam considered the findings on Saltpond one of the report’s “major accomplishments” since so little information has been shared to date on its production. The PIAC further noted the uncertain role of national oil company GNPC , which received 47 percent of the revenue from oil extracted and produced, but has yet to account for any of these funds.

Ghana’s government—and the PIAC—have much to do to make sure the people of Ghana fully benefit from their country’s oil. Andrew Bauer of RWI  stressed the need for forecasting and fiscal rules, transparency and accountability and independent oversight.

“Transparency is not enough on its own,” said Bauer. “We need groups like the PIAC to do this kind of analysis and to bring it to the public’s attention.”

The committee’s members, a collective of traditional and religious leaders and representatives from think tanks, professional associations and advocacy groups, plan to hold their first public forum on 7 June in Takoradi, in the Western Region. The forum, whose location is near the offshore Jubilee oilfield, will provide a chance to discuss the PIAC's findings with the communities most directly affected by the emerging industry.

Watch a complete video of the 1 June panel in Washington, D.C., and learn more from Oxfam America.