Are these Western Region Chiefs Chasing a Mirage?

Fri, 19 Nov 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part I

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

November 18, 2010

Indications are clear that the political situation in the country is already being influenced by crude oil politics. Is it really true that Ghana will soon begin exploiting its huge crude oil reserves and that the revenue to accrue from it will be used impartially to boost the country’s economy? How much at all is the projected annual revenue from this resource that the government should be fixated on it as a certain solution to Ghana’s economic woes? Even before any drop of oil from the Jubilee Oilfields hits the international market to give Ghana any revenue, danger looms large.

A wordy warfare is raging in Parliament over this crude oil factor. Parliament’s joint committee on Finance and Energy cannot conclude work on the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill, which spells out details of how funds from the country’s oil should be used. The committee after weeks of deliberation failed to reach a consensus on four key portions of the bill. Notable among them is an amendment seeking to use 70% of the expected crude oil revenue as collateral for loans. This amendment is the handiwork of the NDC government.

Something is amiss already and tongues have begun wagging. Why should the government want to use 70% of the expected crude oil revenue as collateral for loans? The NDC government is doing the wrong thing, which has raised doubts about its integrity and commitment to serving the interests of the people. Mistrust of its intentions is high. Who will believe such a government?

I am convinced that the government is being wayward on this score and is creating favourable conditions for agitations and legal battles that will complicate matters and deprive the country of benefiting from this natural resource. Why are our national leaders so unconscionable? Why is this NDC government so mindless of the principles of good governance and acceptable procedures for tackling issues? What a shame for it to be preparing grounds to kill the goose that is being nurtured to lay Ghana’s golden egg?

Even as its legal battles with the E.O. Group seem to have fizzled out into nothingness and its Jubilee partners, including Tullow, continue to remain desperately optimistic that they will deliver oil revenue to boost Ghana’s economy, tension is heightening. Even before anything concrete is done to begin drilling the oil, the government has created doubts and provoked a fight over how the oil revenue should be disbursed.

Chiefs in the Western Region are on a mission to shake the very foundations of officialdom. They are demanding 10% of the country’s total oil revenue to spend on infrastructural development to give their region the much-needed facelift and respect. At least, if the government will not develop their region for them, they know how to do it themselves and must be given the opportunity to do so with the revenue that their natural endowment (crude oil) will generate. They say they cannot allow the oil revenue to be used without any direct benefit to people in the Western Region.

Speaking to Sammy Darko (Joy News’ Parliamentary Correspondent) on Wednesday, a spokesperson of the Western Regional House of Chiefs who is also the paramount chief of Essikado, Nana Kobina Nketiah, said their petition is an “act of desperation” following years of marginalisation the region has endured. The chiefs have sent a petition to Parliament for consideration.

According to them, even though the region is endowed with rich resources such as gold, timber, and cocoa, it is still ranked as one of the most poverty-endemic regions in the country. Nana Nketiah said having given up on the gold revenue, the chiefs have a right to demand a token of the oil revenue for the direct benefit of the people of the Western Region. Out of the fullness of their hearts, their mouths have spoken. These are genuine outpourings of a patient and respectable group of people that must be taken with the seriousness they deserve.

Every Ghanaian should be concerned about this move by the chiefs because it not only reaffirms a well-known problem but it also accentuates the careless abandon with which our national leaders have tackled problems so far. In sum, they have neglected the Western Region and left its traditional leaders no other option but to bare their teeth as they are now doing. They are determined to take on the authorities to prove that they also have muscles to flex for due attention. One must be callous not to sympathize with these chiefs, considering the remote and immediate causes of their agitation and its objectives.

It is an understatement to say that the Western Region has not been fairly treated at all by all governments that have ruled this country even though it is one of the major contributors to the national coffers. From mineral and natural resources to agricultural products and human resources, the Western Region is easily recognizable as the backbone of Ghana’s economy. Ironically, it is one of the least developed. Why should it be so?

The plight of the Western Region is a reality. It is pathetic that despite the Region’s enormous contributions to the country’s well-being, nothing substantial has been done to develop it to reflect its prominence as a major source of revenue. Until the Rawlings government began some politically motivated moves to open up the Sefwi-Wiawso area and some parts in the hinterland of the Western region by providing electricity and motorable roads there, none of those governments before or after him deemed it right to give the Western Region its fair share of development projects that would be commensurate with its status as a revenue-earning hub.

I commend the people of that region for their patience, tolerance, and political maturity over the years by not resorting to demonstrations or other physical acts to register their discontent. They have been taken for a rough ride for far too long even though they have contributed in every way toward the growth of our country and stomached all the spate of discrimination and abject neglect. If the “Best comes from the West,” why shouldn’t that part of the country be treated as such?

Now, no more able to contain their anger at the obvious injustice being done to them, the chiefs are demanding their share of proceeds from the black gold even before they enter the national coffers. Of course, it is difficult for one to condemn these chiefs for this line of action, although one can say that they appear to be overstretching matters. Agitating that the Western Region be given its fair share of the revenue to be generated from the oil industry is in itself not a bad move to make; but I daresay that the manner in which the chiefs have begun it makes me cringe. It portends danger and must be understood as such.

To be continued…..

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.