Ghana can only make the necessary gains from the oil and gas sector if or when there is a clear policy and robust regulatory body that will ensure improved systems of oil and gas revenue capture and management and enhanced oversight that will lead to accountability and transparency in Ghana’s oil and gas sector. This was the overriding theme during Penplusbytes’ launch of the ‘Ghana Elections 2016 – Amplifying Oil, Gas and Elections issues’ project in Takoradi.
The 5- month long project supported by the Ghana Oil and Gas for Inclusive Growth (GOGIG) and International IDEA, is being implemented in response to a need to ensure greater inclusion of oil and gas issues in the electoral discourse before, during and after Ghana’s general elections and aims to increase awareness of oil and gas governance issues among citizens and key stakeholders.
The launch, held at the Akroma Plaza Hotel in Takoradi, brought together over 100 participants including Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Paramount Chief of the Essikado Traditional Area, Mr. Joseph Winful of the Public Interest Accountability Committee (PIAC), political party representatives, the media and civil society groups in the western region.
In his remarks as the guest of honour at the event, Nana Nketsia V lamented the mismanagement of Ghana’s natural resources and its implications for the country’s future. He was of the opinion that the Right to Information Bill will improve oversight and promote good governance in the oil and gas sector. “The right to information bill has been lying fallow and without that, how can you be transparent?”
Nana Nketsia however acknowledged that despite the challenges with the management of Ghana’s natural resources, there is hope when organisations such as Penplusbytes come up with such innovative project ideas and pursue them.
A panel discussion on whether or not oil and gas matter in the elections discourse dwelt primarily on the role of the media in amplifying the oil and gas agenda, panelists agreed that ownership is a major hindrance in propagating this agenda. Dr. Steve Manteaw of PIAC, a panelist, asked that citizens challenge political parties to outline their plans and strategies for not only oil and gas revenue management but also for integrating the sector into other aspects of the economy of the country.
The ‘Ghana Elections 2016: Amplifying Oil & Gas and Election Issues’ project is premised on the fact that, since Ghana started producing oil in commercial quantities, the political discourse in the sector has been characterized by questions on how much money has accrued from the oil production; what has been done with revenues from the sector; and whether investments made with the oil revenues has yielded any value for the electorates. There is however little or no information available for citizens to make informed choices especially regarding which political candidate should be mandated to manage revenues from this sector.
Mr. Kwami Ahiabenu II, the Executive Director of Penplusbytes, said for Ghana to gain practical dividends in our democracy, there is the need for issues based campaigning during elections.
“It is our aim to highlight issues which will transform the ideologies of the parties into tangible and actionable policies and proposals for the improvement of public scrutiny of Ghana’s extractive sector”, he added.
At the event, an online ‘Voters’ Policy Compass’ platform built to allow potential voters to express anonymously their political opinions on a wide array of topics, was outdoored.
An editors’ liaison was held in the ensuing two days after the launch during which twenty (20) news editors from Takoradi and Accra were brought together to deliberate and to further push the ‘oil and gas issues in elections’ agenda in their newsrooms during the election period and beyond. News editors from Daily Graphic, Joy News, Citi FM, the Business and Financial times, TV3 and several others were challenged to set the agenda as gatekeepers rather than leave the discourse to political parties who have little or no information to give citizens.
These events which streamed live on social media with the hashtag #GhOil2016 trended for three days on twitter with over 70,000 mentions.