By Isaac Aidoo
As Ghana goes into another election, the complex issues around the oil and gas industry are getting more topical and eliciting strong responses from political actors across the country’s political landscape.
The issues range from beneficial ownership disclosures to transparency and accountability to cutting out mismanagement and corruption as well as concerns of the local people about the lack of jobs, especially in oil rich localities.
Oil experts are concerned about the fact that Ghanaians whose expectations were high at the time of discovery of oil in commercial quantities in 2007 are getting increasingly disillusioned over the management and use of proceeds from the resource.
According to the experts, there are those who are of the view that Ghana isn’t getting much from the exploitation of oil due to bad negotiation, coupled with conflict of interest situations which give rise to corruption.
Strong suspicions that Ghanaian politicians are awarding oil contracts to themselves have resulted in people and communities becoming less hopeful that the industry has anything to offer them.
The identity of the real owners (the beneficial owners) of companies that obtain rights to extract oil, gas and minerals is often unknown.
Their real identities are hidden by a chain of unaccountable corporate entities. This problem affects other sectors of the economy and helps to feed corruption and tax evasion.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global entity which promotes openness and accountability in the management of natural resources has strong beneficial ownership requirements.
EITI demands that member countries ensure that all oil, gas and mining companies that bid for, operate or invest in extractive projects in their countries disclose their real owners.
It specifically requires the prompt identification of politically exposed persons holding ownership rights in oil, gas and mining projects.
Further, the EITI recommends that beneficial ownership information is made available through public registers.
Experts in Ghana are delighted over the new Exploration and Production (E&P) law which promotes competitive bidding for all contracts and the formation of a public register for oil companies.
According to the Head of Policy Unit at the Africa Center for Energy Policy (ACEP), Dr Ishmael Ackah “if whoever forms the next government is able to carry through the two policy initiatives, the issue of identifying real owners of companies won’t be a challenge.”
Ghana’s Company Act has undergone some review and made provision for beneficial ownership disclosures.
The grey area, Dr Ackah pointed out, had to do with the time within which the real owners of companies should be submitted and published.
“If a contract was signed today the Minister can say I will publish the details of the contract but then the law does not define the time within which the publication is to be done,” he contends.
Dr Ackah recommends that the regulations guiding the E&P law should ensure that a company after signing for a contract is given at least two weeks to disclose the real owners in the public register.
But Policy Analyst and member of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), Dr Steve Manteaw gives the assurance that the regulation guiding the implementation of the E&P law would provide the time line for the publication of the details of real owners of companies.
In the run-up to the elections in December, the major political parties have indicated their resolve to implement to the letter the requirements of the law on beneficial ownership.
Leaders of the country’s major political parties continue to commit themselves to a regime of transparency and accountability in the oil and gas industry.
Flagbearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo has revealed that under his rule, the Public Procurement Act will be strictly enforced, and that all contracts will be made publicly accessible to citizens.
He pledged support for the establishment of a ‘Beneficial Ownership Register’ for Ghana. Too him, it was necessary for lifting the veil off public officials who hide behind cronies to amass wealth through public procurements.
He said his government, if elected into office, will ensure that the real owners behind all the companies bidding for government contracts and natural resource concessions are known.
The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) which launched its manifesto recently says “the NDC will urge all companies operating in the country to disclose their beneficial owners and will promote the publication of abridged versions of all contracts.”
The Convention Peoples Party (CPP) on the other hand says it will be committed to transparent and accountable management of the country’s extractive sector revenues.