Editorial News Wed, 27 Jun 2007

They're Fighting Over The Oil Already?

By Cameron Duodu

It would be funny if it were not so serious. A company drilling for oil in Ghanaian waters has announced that its made a find.

The highest figure put on the reserves it has discovered is 600 million barrels. Nigeria can produce that much oil in a single year. Currently, its producing about 2 millions barrels a day; if you multiply that by 365 days, you get 730 million barrels.

Even the tiny bit of oil we've discovered is deep down in the sea and is yet to reach the surface and into a tanker. And yet, already, our politicians are at each other's throats, arguing bitterly about all sorts of irrelevant things.


Was the discovery made earlier in the previous regime? Or was it only salt that was discovered under that regime?

Are these the sort of questions that should preoccupy fully grown adults?

One chap has even gone to the extent of saying that just because the $20 million given to the Ghana@50 committee for the celebrations has not been fully accounted for, Ghanaians should not, in his words, over-jubilate over the oil find.

Let us grow up in our attitude to matters or we shall frighten away those who want to work with us to develop our country. Of course, everyone knows that oil and politics go together. There have been political squabbles all over the world, wherever oil has been discovered. From Texas to Iran, from Libya to Saudi Arabia, from Kuwait to Nigeria, the way the money from the oil should be shared, always causes trouble.

But in all these countries, arrangements have been arrived at, some satisfactory, others less so, for governing the income from the oil. So let it be with us.

Since we won't be getting anything from oil for at least a couple of years, we should use the time between now and the first sales, to work out our arrangements, so that we are not caught with our pants down.

As far as I am concerned, we should be grateful even if all we get is enough oil to stop us from having to use our puny foreign exchange earnings to import the stuff. Right now, oil has passed the $70 per barrel mark and if we continue to import the stuff, our annual expenditure on it will pass the $200 million per annum figure given by Mr Kwamena Bartels. So that is where our concerns should be at the moment.

I remember in 1979, when we ran out of oil and were queueing for days to obtain a few gallons of rationed petrol,I asked about a company that was supposed to be producing oil in our waters, Agri-Petco. It wasn't getting much; I think it was only about 15,000 barrels a day. But it would have been a grand gesture on the company's part if it had announced that, it was going to offer its production to Ghana, pending our ability to import oil from abroad again. That gesture never came.

We should ensure that, such situations do not arise again in future to tease us. Can you imagine having petroleum shipped from your country, when its economy is grinding to a halt because there isn't a drop of petrol to be had anywhere? I am sure Agri-Petco could have argued and probably did that because it had a contract to ship its crude oil abroad, until such time as it had recouped its exploration exopenses, or something like that. But there had been what in international law could be considered an insurrection in Ghana, and it could have used that clause to help us out, if it had wanted to.


Escaping from situations like that in future, will mean, using our experience to good account. We can't do that unless we view the oil industry from a national, as against party political, standpoint.

That's why the bickering about the oil find should stop in its tracks right now, so that the Government can feel free to ask advice from opposition parties, if necessary; and to include the opposition when it is dishing out any appointments that come about as a result of establishing arrangements to govern the oil industry in its new guise.

When we didn't have prospects for producing oil in respectable quantities, most of such considerations were of academic interest only. That is no longer the case, and to pretend that we can go on as usual with the instituinal framework we've already got, would not be realistic.

It would be a good idea if Parliament were to send an all-party delegation to Nigeria and some of the Middle Eastern oil-producing countries to study their oil industries.

Talking to government and opposition elements in such countries, if possible (not all of them are democracies!) would open our Parliamentarians eyes to the knotty problems that can arise in relationships between oil-producing countries and the foreign companies they work with, as well as the minefield through which these Governments have to wade, as they attempt to steer their way through the dual carriageway of satisfying local interests while, at the same time, not neglecting the huge demands that are made on central government finances, once it is known to reap revenues from oil.

So God bless Ghana's nascent oil industry. Let us all rejoice that we have made a find, however small. If we don't show gratitude for the little we've got, we won't be given a large chunk, for nature abhors ingratitude.

Of course, we are aware that production of oil in any country can lead to corruption; the destruction if traditional patterns of economic production, and social dismemberment, including civil war (Biafran civil war, Nigeria, 1967-70; the just-ending Sudanese civil war).

But at least we are going into it with our eyes wide open. There is no reason why we should repeat other peoples silly mistakes, is there?
Source: Ghanaian Times
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