imagesIn 2007, President of Ghana John Kufuor, was ecstatic as the country discovered large quantities of offshore oil.

“With oil as a shot in the arm, we are going to fly,” he famously told the BBC, promising the country and its citizens a better future.

The new revenues created hope in terms of economic development and further democratic consolidation. Unfortunately economic mismanagement and corruption proved to be greater than the hopes raised.

Today, Ghana has a large financial debt, worsened by currency depreciation and less revenues due to the drop in the oil prices.

Room for change

But there is still a chance to turn the situation around as Ghana’s institutional conditions – free press and a vibrant media as well as an established multiparty system – provide an opportunity to change the course of the use of oil windfalls.

The country has adopted a number of legislative frameworks and designed an institutional structure for management of these resources, but much more needs to be done.

Enhancing the transparency of oil and gas contracts, setting rules related to beneficial ownership of the sector’s companies, defining disciplinary and penal responsibilities for the mismanagement of oil and gas revenues and revising the mandates of institutions governing these resources to avoid overlapping and loopholes are some of the unresolved challenges.

Need to define party positions

Starting in 2015 International IDEA in collaboration with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) have supported political parties in Ghana to define their positions on oil and gas management. While the long-term objective is to establish a multiparty dialogue to build consensus on key governance aspects of the oil and gas industry, parties felt the need to define their individual positions about oil and gas governance first.

Upcoming election

The presidential elections in November 2016, are an appealing incentive for political parties to fully engage in this process and strengthen their manifestos on this topic. After six months of working closely with the four political parties with parliamentary representation, we publicly launched the policy position papers on oil and gas on February 12 in Accra.

All four parties showed a high degree of commitment to this process despite some of them having other important internal party processes such as National Congresses and other internal electoral processes.

With large media presence and a lively twitter campaign, the four parties presented their positions on the institutional framework for the governance of the oil and gas sector, transparency and accountability of the industry, oil and gas revenue management and fiscal sustainability.

Public interest

The media and the public were actively participating in the launch asking questions directly to the parties. The role of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), as well as the system for appointing members of the boards of oil and gas agencies were some of the topics discussed.

Participants also raised questions related to oil and gas revenues’ priority areas of investment and how to manage these resources in times of fiscal strain and deflation of the global oil prices.

The topic of oil and gas industry is of great interest for Ghanaians. Unlike previous discussions on the topic this was not opinions from individual politicians who were interviewed, but the result of months of solid work by the parties on all the governance related questions to the oil and gas industry.

These positions were defined in connection and coherence with the general political manifestoes of each party. This process rise the possibilities of accountability in the management of this wealth creator sector.

The Norwegian Ambassador to Ghana gave the closing remarks, categorizing this initiative as impressive. The Ambassador invited the Ghanaian electorate to be part of the definition of policies that delineate the management of oil and gas of their country. The natural resources should benefit all citizens and not just few. Engaging the political parties in an open dialogue about the management of oil and gas, gives an opportunity to Ghanaians to make informed choices about the governance of their resources.

Next step

The next step is to support a debate closer to the elections and promoting interparty consensus on some basic issues related to the oil and gas management. Experience from other countries like Norway, show that long term agreement on basic points on the governance of natural resources is key for transforming this sector into a catalyst for development.