Effective utilization of oil revenue, transparency and accountability

Reading time 22 min.

I recently delivered two lectures on the Effective Utilization of Oil Revenue, Transparency and Accountability and Local Content issues at the annual conferences of the Institute of Chartered Bankers of Ghana and the Institute of Chartered Economists of Ghana on November 23, 2010 and December 3, 2010. Thursday December 3, 2010 respectively.

Ever since Ghana struck oil in commercial quantities in 2007, discussions held on many fora have cantered on positive anticipation of prudent management of the oil wealth, however small, that would accrue to Ghanaians after the main owners of the oil fields have taken care of their significant development and production costs.

However, in the midst of the euphoria, the main Opposition party during whose tenure, significant commercial quantities of oil was found believed it was an ordination from God that such a blessing fell upon them. The current party in government said it was due to previous hard work put in during their time in office. Much of such pettiness was to consume the financial discretion required to make detailed pronouncements on what our potential oil wealth was and what it could achieve for us. Unfortunately, any time any of the flag bearers in the 2008 general elections descended on the campaign platform and had access to a megaphone they promised billions to their obviously jubilant crowds, whilst their manifestoes run counter to the rudiments of proper business plans.

For example, the current flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party had rehearsed his own $15bn expectation form the oil in the next 5 years which gave him the audacity to spew billions on quite a handful agricultural and other infrastructure projects around the country. To the extent that he repeated the same benign chorus of $15bn in an interview with the Financial Times of London, he actually meant it.

Perhaps the most mouth-watering promise, was to be made by the vice presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress, H.E. John Mahama, who stated that his party would use 10% of the oil revenue to develop the Western Region. It should be clear to all by now that when the Western Region Chiefs travelled to Accra last week to meet with the leadership of Parliament, they were only laying claim to what has been promised. Egbert Faibille. Jnr, A lawyer friend of mine, joked “As far as I know the oil find is located offshore and since no chief has been able to sell any part of the sea in Ghana, I wonder why the chiefs of the Western Region can demand 10 per cent of Ghana’s oil revenue.”

But I say it is for the ruling government to worry, because short of this expectation, the region could possibly swing their support in the next general election in favour of perhaps a Tea Party that might emerge. Or perhaps, the Western Region Development Forum, an amalgam of representatives of traditional rulers, civil society and community based organizations, might be placated by meeting their demands, expressed in a communiqué issued on September 30, 2010 the group among others, want:

 The Government of the Republic of Ghana should, as matter of urgency, establish a Western Regional Development Fund to facilitate accelerated development of the region with the hope that this will help mute the strong and growing sentiment of alienation and marginalisation.

 The Structure of the Oil and Gas Local Content Bill should achieve an emotional socio-economic integration between the Oil and Gas Industry and local Communities.

 The GNPC and the headquarters of the Oil and Gas industry should be moved to the Region to promote the spatial planning of Ghana.

We should lament with the conveners of the Western Region Development Forum that only 4.15% of the indigenes of the Region have access to Secondary Education and just over 40% of Western Region is connected to the national grid – far below the 60% national average. But making such bold demands has roots in the disconcerting way previous proceeds from resources have been used.

We need a fundamental shift in our political governance to ensure some semi-autonomy at the district level for local resources to be used to fix local problems and political decentralization is the key, not regional development funds and schemes to be managed by politicians and unaccountable representatives handpicked by the centre.

It must also be emphasized that much of the activities related to oil production would be done off shore and as long as these activities are in Ghana’s maritime waters and not the western region’s alone, they deserve just as much as every other region. The best the Western region can ask for is their shares of taxes paid for on-shore related activities. More of such taxes should be kept for local development rather than carried to central government.

The fact though that Western Region is most likely to suffer in the case of an oil spillage means that environmental safety trust funds and insurance schemes should prioritise the region. However, in worst-case scenarios other regions on the coast too shall suffer and require similar treatment (Volta region on the eastern board for instance where Vanco and co are drilling).

The Western Region conundrum is but the veneer of the challenges our new found oil throws upon us. A couple of weeks ago, when the draft petroleum management bill was presented to parliament, the one provision that has held our Parliamentarians in awe of common sense is the lack of it when it comes to the issue of mortgaging our yet-to-be quantified oil revenues.

We at IMANI set ourselves the task of making our proposal for efficient utilization of oil revenues based on the fact

 that it serves the best interests of Ghanaians,

 ensures that the use and management of petroleum revenues are transparent and properly accounted for, and

 That it is informed by international best practices.

We are aware that since the current trend demonstrates that resource-poor developing countries are surpassing the economic growth of their resource-rich counterparts, Ghana’s newly discovered source of wealth may in fact be its newest source of detriment.

What has determined the positive outcome for the 3.5 billion people that have used their resources well however, has been their governments’ ability to manage the income of the abundant natural resources at their disposal (“EITI Fact Sheet,” 2010). Significantly, the success or failure of these countries to effectively do so is not only dependent upon the specific mechanisms of rent receipt and expenditure, but also on the presence or absence of such essential preconditions as “democracy, transparency, and public institutions that are responsive to citizens” (Maim, 2009). Thus, while models from countries managing natural resource revenues are instructive and should inform Ghana’s development of a policy framework, the various political and economic contexts from which they derive must be carefully considered.

Although Ghana is politically stable, the amount of power the executive, often backed by an unimpressive majority in Parliaments has, is capable of altering the configurations of prudent economic management.

Take clause 5 of the Petroleum Revenue Management Bill for instance. It states that “the assets of the petroleum account shall not be used (a) to provide credit to government or any other person or entity and (b) as collateral for debts, guarantees, commitments or other liabilities of any other entity.” Now though, the government wants the clause amended to allow it to use petroleum fund reserves for infrastructure developments. There is really no problem if government will apply the funds to fix our huge infrastructure gaps, which has been quantified at $10bn. The fear is in borrowing against unknown future income from the oil. Ordinarily there should even be nothing wrong with this too. Caution is being urged because we cannot trust our politicians to do the right thing and in the process saddle us with debts. Writing in the Novermber 26, 2010 edition of the Ghanaian Chronicle Stephen Yeboah warns of “reports which border on attempts by the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Mines and Energy to amend and cancel Clauses 58 and 60 respectively of the Ghana Petroleum Revenue Management Bill and the purported use of the country’s oil reserves as collateral are clear indication Ghana is teetering on the brink of the resource curse. There is danger looming!”

Similar excuses in the past landed us to owning only 3% (on profits if declared) of our own gold reserves. In 1992, Ghana’s gold production surpassed 1 million fine ounces, up from 327,000 fine ounces in 1987. In March 1994, the Ghanaian government announced that it would sell half of its 55 percent stake in Ashanti, Anglo- Gold for an estimated US$250 million, which would then be spent on development projects. So, it was spent, but no proof of which part of the economy got the jolt.

Budgetary Allocations

Naturally, a primary target for the allocation of resource revenues has been the national budget. In order to address the volatility of rent streams and the limited availability of the resources themselves, a range of stabilization and future funds in which to save rather than spend profits have also been devised. Norway has consistently been cited for the successful management of its oil wealth, and may be considered a champion of this model. In 1990, Norway created the State Petroleum Fund (SPF) in response to its aging population’s demands for greater pension provisions and in view of the declining volumes of oil production over time (Fasano, 2000).

The fund consequently has functions for both savings and stabilization, facilitating macroeconomic management against oscillating oil prices and providing security for the socioeconomic needs of a future without oil income. All oil revenues are first directed toward the budget, however, and no strict regime predominates dictating the proportion of profits that should be assigned to the SPF. While this flexibility simultaneously allows the government to withdraw funds in a transparent way (as oil revenues are separated from other sources of wealth) and prevents excess currency from overwhelming domestic absorptive capacity, the countercyclical fiscal stance that has resulted cannot solely be attributed to the superiority of Norway’s oil revenue management model. Perhaps equally significant if not more so has been the larger conservative fiscal policy in which the SPF operates and which has permitted the accumulation of substantial assets given consistent budget surpluses (Fasano, 2000). Furthermore, with the proliferation of democratic institutions over the past 150 years, a responsive Norwegian government effectively protected the interests of domestic non-oil exporters through policy arrangements promoting macroeconomic stability and the prevention of “Dutch disease” (Moss & Young, 2009). Clearly, Norway’s historically sound political and economic conditions have predisposed the country to use its oil revenues for its benefit.

Given the considerable disparities that exist between the prevailing conditions of Norway and Ghana, though, it may prove more useful to examine the cases of Chile and Botswana, two countries whose marked growth and development is nascent and more greatly resembles that of Ghana.

Chile, like Norway, established a stabilization fund for the management of its copper revenues. At the time of its implementation, assets were either saved or withdrawn from the Copper Stabilization Fund (CSF) according to the positive or negative difference between the actual price of copper and an annually-calculated benchmark representing the estimated long-term copper price (Fasano, 2000).

Again as in Norway, the context for the operation of the CSF was strong economic performance, particularly during the period between 1990 and 1997 when poverty was reduced to half and Chile’s central government saw continual fiscal surplus (Maxwell, 2004; Fasano, 2000). Even though copper prices subsequently plummeted in 1997, depleting the accumulated assets of the CSF, the fund had since successfully reversed the positive relationship between budget expenditure and revenue availability that existed prior to its foundation (Fasano, 2000).

Moreover, assets have been sufficiently recuperated as evidenced by the four-billion-dollar stimulus package disseminated during the 2009 global financial crisis; this money was withdrawn from the newly developed Economic and Stabilization Fund which replaced the CSF in 2006 and controlled more than twenty billion dollars (Bell, Heller, & Heuty, 2010).

Perhaps another qualification for Chile’s ostensibly prudent copper revenue management is the relative absence of a true “resource windfall”; despite a twofold boost in production, profits have only increased 50% due to low copper prices and repatriation of additional revenue by foreign companies (Maxwell, 2004). Still, Chile must be commended for its liberalized economic policy which fortified and diversified the export sector and its debt management strategy which complemented that of its resource management (Maxwell 2004; Bell et al., 2010). While the development of copper stabilization funds, beginning with the CSF in 1985, have evidently improved Chile’s capacity to manage its resource revenues, the question remains, as in the case of Norway, regarding the influence of policies and conditions prior to the inception of these mechanisms.

Moving closer to home, African countries such as Botswana and Nigeria have access to resources of diamonds and oil, respectively, whose vastness is matched only by the disparity of outcomes these countries experienced as a result of managing that wealth. Whereas Botswana’s real per capita income increased six fold from 1970-74 to 2000-2004, that of Nigeria scarcely reached gains of 25% and was in fact negative between 1970-1999 notwithstanding $231 billion gains made by the Nigerian petroleum industry (Auty, “Political Economy,” 2008; Moss & Young, 2009). Again, it is essential to compare the specific methods by which these countries managed the profits their natural resources accrued, but it also becomes apparent that political rather than economic preconditions takes precedence in this example.

Botswana and Nigeria’s contrasting political and economic strength perhaps provides the most salient evidence for this point. Prior to the expansion of its diamond mines, Botswana’s relatively small GNI received nearly one-sixth of its funds from foreign aid; its government, however, has been characterized by a “stable, peaceful democracy,” notably the product of pre-colonial institutions which held leaders accountable to their people and later exposure to British parliamentary democracy (Auty, “Political Economy,” 2008; Moss & Young, 2009).

Conversely, Nigeria maintained autocratic military regimes from 1967 to 1999, a period which included both the 1974-78 and 1979-81 oil booms. Widespread corruption also plagued Nigerian politics, and initiated a destructive pattern of rent cycling among ethnic elites for purposes of political patronage. While for some time Nigeria prudently sterilized its rent stream abroad in offshore savings, its unsustainable practice of rent cycling inevitably depleted these funds; moreover, this almost complete domestic absorption of the rent stream contributed to inflationary effects (2008). Clearly, amidst extreme contentions over oil revenues which resulted in eighteen separate allocation formulas between 1946 and 2003, the Nigerian government could hardly have managed their wealth in a transparent way to promote macroeconomic stability and social and economic developments (2009).

Although Botswana’s response to its newly acquired wealth was markedly different, the influence of its preferential political situation, among other factors, must qualify its ultimately positive outcome. Upon the construction of its first mine in 1972, the government erected the Revenue Stabilization Fund and Public Debt Service Fund (Auty, “The Political State,” 2001). Botswana subsequently allocated sufficient resources towards infrastructure and education along with universal HIV/AIDS treatment, but cautiously sterilized approximately two-fifths of its revenue stream abroad (Moss & Young, 2009; 2001). That Botswana’s real exchange rate is dependent upon the South African rand additionally prevented the appreciation of its currency despite substantial domestic investments. Still, it was ultimately a powerful group of cattle farmers, gaining from public expenditure of diamond revenues and consequently interested in its sustainability, that impelled the government’s conservative management of these profits. The policies which followed included restriction of rent seeking and abstention from making unsustainable entitlements (2001). Although Botswana’s rent stream was almost certainly more stable and thus more easily controlled than that of Nigeria, Botswana, unlike its oil-scavenging counterpart, has upheld accountability to its people and has broadened its horizons beyond the contentions of rent seeking to create wealth rather than stagnation.

Ghana’s Petroleum Revenue Management bill also envisages direct cash transfers into the national budget. The specific provision reads that “Transfer from the Ghana Petroleum Account to the Consolidated Fund for budget funding shall be in quarterly installment of one-quarter of the Annual Budget Funding Amount, or as the Minister may recommend.” It has also been suggested that should the budget suffer shocks (which have not been defined), the government was at liberty to draw on the petro cash. As fiscal responsibility is a rare commodity in this country, such vague and loose language should not have accompanied the directive in the first place. In its present form, “shocks” could easily be manufactured through wreckless spending and on items with the least return on investment as long as there is a saviour fund to turn to. Coupled with a politically weak public oversight committee, ordinarily citizens are going to be at the mercy of politicians to think and do things right.

There is parliamentary controversy about the proper role of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) (which clauses 53-59) of the Petroleum Management Bill deals with. PIAC’s existence is an admission that there needs to be public oversight. My reading of the suggested PIAC, its membership and powers satisfy the Independent nature of such an oversight body as well as its ability to sue and be sued. The only recourse to the Executive and Parliament is in sharing its work, but that is where the elephant sits. – The composition of PIAC reduces it to a mere advisorial bureaucracy and may even be compromised by a stronger Executive Presidency. Bureaucracies can hardly rein in politicians. What needs to be questioned is whether PIAC would be performing any different tasks other than the one the Parliamentary Committees of Finance and Energy and indeed the entire Parliament are already performing. Duplicatory institutions seem to me a drain on the national purse, and just as there are many laws on our statute books to prevent corruption, the words are scrutiny and ability to name and shame.

IMANI’s position is that we should not let politicians manage the oil funds. It should be managed by an independent body. Citizens can go to court and challenge any decision contrary to the law setting up the body. That body will then be subject to parliament through an annual report of activities and decisions, and the public through the courts in a way that neither parliament nor the executive is.

It must be exposed that members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Mines and Energy are seeking to amend Clause 60 (1), which may give citizens the right to challenge the powers of the state, could be potentially deleted. That reference states that “The records of petroleum receipts in whatever form for the purpose of transparency and accountability shall simultaneously be published by the Minister in the Gazette and in at least two national daily newspapers, no more than thirty working days after the end of the applicable quarter.”

This provision is the exact tool that could empower the people to scrutinize how their revenues are used. It is therefore detrimental to the rule of law if this particular article is amended. Instead of establishing such an independent body whose leadership code will have the necessary teeth, there is a rush to seek support for arbitrary and quick decisions to be made. How could the 2011 budget suggest that almost half of the proceeds ($300m) from first oil be given to the Ghana National Petroleum Company for its future investments?

Oil revenues are special funds, and they are particularly troublesome to manage, we must treat them with seriousness, especially when the general citizenry clearly don’t trust politicians that much. All decisions on expenditure should be published by the independent body before disbursement. We are aware that “On October 31 this year, citizens of Niger voted on a new constitution that includes extraordinary assurances of transparency in the natural
resource sector.”

A percentage of Ghana’s Petroleum Funds is intended as savings funds for two purposes: in the short run to smoothen government spending, and in the long run to preserve part of the value of the oil capital while living on the interest.

According to the plan, what is set aside as savings, if any, in the Ghana Petroleum Funds shall be prudently managed by investing in specific low-risk securities abroad, with allowance for Domestic Strategic Investments on commercial basis, and by having an investment board to provide oversight on how the funds are invested.

We believe these will be counterproductive. Savings will yield interest over time, but interest rates are very low especially abroad. It seems sensible that investing in infrastructure will have a multiplier effect on the economy and the net gain will be higher than the interests on savings.

Primarily because we do not trust our politicians to keep any or part of our heritage, the best way to enhance intergenerational equity would be better to leave our children good education and health, better roads and telecoms, than to leave them raw dollars, worse still, our neglect of these areas (as we save the money) will lead to loss of life which will be avoided if we give people health and education now.

There is however, a modicum of transparency though. Stephen Yeboah argues again that

“The Ghana Petroleum Revenue Management Bill, as it stands now, addresses many of the Santiago Principles relating to transparency, including a public definition of the rules and procedures of the Funds and the publication of annual reports and other relevant financial information.
It also meets many of the criteria laid out by Edwin Truman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics for Best Practices in sovereign funds, including the publication of performance against benchmarks and the annual returns on the fund.
He goes on to ask “What provisions in the bill enables it to meet these international best practices? To begin with, Section 51(3) of the PRMB narrows the Minister’s discretion to declare information confidential which hitherto gave much power to the Minister.

The earlier provision gave power to the Minister to declare information confidential if the Minister deems it to “be misleading, as it relates to… incomplete analysis, or significantly affect the functioning of Government”. Presently, information is only permitted to be withheld if
disclosure could “prejudice significantly the performance” of the Fund.

The current Bill also puts in a requirement that Parliament approves any Ministerial declaration of confidentiality, and specifically clarifies in 51(5) that such a declaration “shall not limit access to information by Parliament and the Public Interest and Accountability Committee.”

Local Content Issues

The economic duty of the government in a country with a new oil industry is not to maximise the extent of local content in the new sector at all costs. From both a financial prudency and social equity perspective, the primary obligation of such a government is to maximise the profitability of the sector.

We at IMANI argue that this maxim holds for most African states where the profile of the new oil resource is highly likely to be deepwater or even ultra-deepwater. The high risks and costs (finding, development and lifting) often mean that only about 40% of the gross proceeds made from the sale of oil is available for sharing between the host country and the investors, usually private-sector and foreign-originated players. In such circumstances, over the medium-term, there is barely any real difference between the rivals in vogue at present: the “production-sharing” and “royalty and tax” systems. It follows therefore that for either system the overall profitability of the sector must be key, if national revenues are to be optimised for investment in comparatively-advantageous, tradable, sectors of the economy.

We at IMANI concede that profit maximisation and local content promotion are not, logically speaking, mutually exclusive. But in practice, especially in the typical case of a small African country with a marginal find, excessive emphasis on local content promotion by overstretched public sector managers almost always lead to uncritical resource nationalism and an inability to appreciate the complex dynamics of profitability.

Consider that in the new oil economies of Africa, annual production typically hovers or are projected to hover around 100,000 barrels. Total recoverable reserves would usually be projected to last for 25 years. Meanwhile building credible local content infrastructure takes upwards of a decade. By the time the artificial cap of 60% or so had been reached, the finite resource is nearly spent, or the structure of the economy would already have grown so imbalanced that said local content strategies would seem like “mini-enclaves” within the original oil enclave. The disjunction would have been complete.

Rather than go to every length to create narrow synergies in the service of an enclave sector with a stunted growth cycle, and short lifespan to boot, it seems obvious to us that it would be profitable to aim at comparative advantage – led general diversification. If an example is warranted, the case of Venezuela’s love for investing in American refining capacity even as its own oil sector atrophies, and the relative success of the Bolivarian Republic’s CITGO in the US, is ample testimony to the triumph of profitability over control.

But if so, then how may oil receipts be channelled properly into this diversification business? We argue against stabilisation, overflow, buffer, and smoothening funds that aim to lubricate the existing fiscal structure, which in all probability would be far from the most dynamic part of our beloved country’s endowment.

To promote the transparent and effective use of its funds (and thus ensure compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), Ghana should consider isolating those profits obtained from oil from traditional sources of revenue. Furthermore, if Ghana intends to utilize oil to advance its development, clear guidelines for their distribution must be deployed.

The National Development Planning Commission should play an active role in determining these priorities, making especial concessions to incorporate the National Infrastructure Plan and the need to resolve Ghana’s current ten billion dollar infrastructure deficit. Here there is also a significant opportunity to incorporate public-private partnerships (for which Ghana is generating a parallel policy framework) in the implementation of these development plans; drawing upon the technical and logistical expertise of the private sector, its integration in this process will expedite the provision of infrastructure and public services.

If this objective is properly executed, the establishment of a “heritage” or “future” fund will be unnecessary as future generations will derive greater benefit from investment in infrastructure and human resources than from money with no strategy for its expenditure.


The Other Afrik  The Other Afrik is an alternative and multi-faceted information source from Afrik-News' panel of experts. Contributions include : opinions, reviews, essays, satires, research, culture and entertainment news, interviews, news, information, info, opinion, africa, african-american, europe, united states, international, caribbean, america, middle east, black, France, U.K.
Franklin Cudjoe
Franklin Cudjoe is head of Ghanaian think tank, IMANI, a non-profit, non-government organization dedicated to fostering public awareness of important policy issues concerning business, government and civil society. He is also editor of AfricanLiberty.org. The Foreign Policy Magazine named IMANI, the fifth most influential think tank in Africa in 2010. Franklin was named Young Global Leader 2010 by the World Economic Forum.
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