In 2007, Ghana found commercially viable quantities of petroleum after three decades of prospecting.
It exported its first barrels of crude oil in 3.5 years. The time it took from discovery to extraction and export was twice as quick as the six to seven years.
The speed record demonstrates the industry’s high level of political involvement when compared to other sectors, like agriculture and healthcare.
Oil has helped Ghana’s economy in many different ways during the preceding years. It has directly increased the nation’s gross domestic product by more than $1 billion each year. This also applies to the royalties that international oil firms pay.
Gas infrastructure, a growing petrochemical sector, and more skilled employment are examples of indirect advantages.
Natural resource literature on developing nations with abundant natural resources refers to these resources as a “curse.” This is because most citizens on the continent do not receive the advantages.
Does Ghana exemplify this?
In recent work, I looked at the institutional structures and political attitudes in the petroleum industry during a three-decade period.
According to my analysis, political differences and political concerns trump any predictable and explicitly stated goals in petroleum governance. This is even though once oil was discovered in 2007, civil society enacted stronger checks and balances.
The nation, and ordinary Ghanaians in particular, have constantly paid a high price for arbitrary and unfettered decision-making. Today, this still holds.
A history of mistakes
I identified three phases of petroleum governance.
The first – 1983 to 2001 – was the period when personal relationships determined who had power in petroleum governance. This period predates oil discovery and production.
The second – 2001 to 2008 – saw the sector change dramatically as clientelist political manoeuvres took over to attract foreign investments.
The third phase – from 2009 to the present – was the active involvement of civil society following the discovery and production. This offered some degree of checks and balances.
In 1983 the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation was set up as a national oil company. It was responsible for the sector emerging as a rent-seeking venture. This was because it hedged anticipated future petroleum revenues in the form of loans receivables to meet the country’s petroleum import needs and to fund exploration activities.
This action was termed ‘booty futures’ – a situation where revenues from petroleum are collected several years before discovery and production.
The corporation had the mandate for petroleum exploration as well as imports of petroleum products for domestic consumption. Fiscal space was constrained at the time. One of the corporation’s strategies was therefore to use anticipated proceeds from future oil production from some fields to hedge oil price hikes. It also used proceeds from the sale of cocoa on the world market to directly pay for imported crude oil without having to look for foreign exchange to cover the cost.
These kinds of derivative transactions cost Ghana millions of dollars due to ill-informed advice from its financial advisers.
In addition, the government demanded 65% of the profits. This was a high share for a nascent industry without certainty of discovery. This made Ghana unattractive to investors. The state continued to pump resources into exploration and incurred further financial losses.
Investors began to show interest in 2001 when a new government revised the profit-sharing terms to between 10% and 15%.
The petroleum sector continues to be manipulated by politicians. This is done through the indiscriminate removal and appointment of technocrats and executives. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation has become notorious for being embroiled in several petroleum agreement scandals.
Potentially these are costing the taxpayer billions of dollars. Some misappropriation has been averted due to the vigilance of civil society groups. But there’s still a lack of transparency and inadequate political will to propose and implement laws to the letter.
Petroleum itself is not the problem
The primary determinants of the quality of Ghana’s petroleum governance are the political environment and the degree of engagement of civil society in governance.
Petroleum is not a problem, neither is any natural resource per se.
Instead, petroleum arrived at a time in which the country was beset by three fundamental structural problems.
First, the political arrangement was characterised by political power influencing the disbursement of benefits to the elites. This arrangement was aggravated by the excessive power of decision making, appointment and resource disbursement at the hands of national-level political actors.
In this context, there was subjectivity, secrecy, and a lack of consideration for alternative and grassroots perspectives in governance in general.
These factors have cost Ghana several billion dollars. And continue to do so.
Recent revelations show that Ghana risks losing about US$1.5 billion annually due to a 2020/21 gas supply agreement. The agreement has seen Ghana selling gas at a needlessly discounted rate of 77% to a private entity.
Second, internal and external party-political disputes have shaped institutional quality and outcomes. For instance, the dismissal or reassignment of up to 90% of Ghana National Petroleum Corporation staff in 2001 due to a change in government created room for the government to pay an avoidable judgement debt of US$19.5 million to Société General.
The lack of coordination between the then Kufour government and the corporation due to competing political interests between the two main political parties in Ghana left room for Societe General to get away with a higher rather than lower negotiated judgement debt amount.
Similarly, tensions in 2014 between two leading members of the then ruling party – Tsatsu Tsikata and Kwesi Botchwey – derailed efforts to set up the necessary infrastructure, contributing to the flaring (burning) of gas in the initial stages of petroleum extraction.
This disagreement had roots in the mid-1990s when Botchwey was the Finance Minister under Rawlings and vehemently opposed the indiscriminate infusion of public funds into petroleum exploration.
Third, all Ghanaian governments have shown a lack of political will to formulate and implement laws and other legal frameworks. Even where laws exist, they have shown an appetite to bypass them.
Options for strengthening petroleum governance
To ensure sustained confidence in Ghana’s petroleum sector, I propose the following.
First, future legislation – or amendments to existing laws – must provide guidelines for dealing with sweat equity. Sweat equity is the equity that one gets in return for one’s efforts in bringing petroleum investors to Ghana.
The EO Group and the AGM Petroleum Ghana Ltd are examples of Ghanaian entities that have benefited from this. Without any legislation governing this phenomenon, political actors have exploited it by allowing their cronies to bring preferred investors into the sector without going through competitive procurement processes.
Dealing with this loophole would ensure that profit sharing in petroleum agreements were discussed with the country’s national interest in mind, not personal interests.
Second, Parliament must ensure that regulations are drafted and gazetted within stipulated periods after passage of laws. This will get rid of excessive political discretion in the implementation of laws.
Third, civil society groups, such as the media, should up the ante by making it politically unattractive for politicians to exploit petroleum governance. They can do this by vigorously informing electorates about how the sector is being run.
Fourth, political parties should build consensus to develop a long-term bi-partisan strategy to establish stability of staffing and appointments in the petroleum sector.
By Clement Sefa-Nyarko (Postdoctoral research associate, La Trobe University)