Ghana riding transparency roller-coaster
Out in Jomoro district in western Ghana, James Bogoloh is looking at what passes for a road through dense forest between two villages near his home in Takinta. He pronounces it “deplorable.” “If it rains it is just not passable,” he says, as a motorcycle carrying two men, one holding a machete carefully off to the side, bounces and sputters past. Bogoloh shows us a concrete structure meant to bridge a low, wet area, and says that the contractor is about to start grading the road surface.
Bogoloh is an elected representative and a volunteer community monitor who is working with Oxfam’s partner Friends of the Nation to teach local people how to ensure that government money from oil and mining revenues is used to improve their lives. His efforts in Jomoro are complemented by a national coalition advocating for better laws to promote transparency of resource revenues, so citizens can see where their national wealth goes.
They are making significant progress, but the track to transparency has its ups and downs: The country passed a Petroleum Revenue Bill in 2011 designed to help citizens confirm that resources from oil wealth actually make it into projects like the road at Takinta. Passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the US, which contains requirements for companies operating in Ghana to report payments they make to the government here, was also significant.
But there have also been setbacks: Leaders of the transparency movement in Ghana are now concerned about news that the American Petroleum Institute (The US oil industry’s lobbying arm) has filed a lawsuit to block the reporting rules for Dodd-Frank. Bishop Okoglu, who heads the research organization ISODEC, one of the leaders of the transparency movement in Ghana, takes a sober, analytical, view to the law suit. “I’m not surprised, they have to be seen to be fighting back,” he says in his office in Accra. “We just need to keep up the public pressure, and encourage those in Europe and the UK to pass similar transparency legislation. Soon, the companies will have very little to stand on, and they can’t prove they will suffer.”
The transparency roller coaster took another turn last week, this time for the better, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US government agency tasked with implementing the Dodd-Frank oil and mining payment disclosure requirements, stood by its final rule and refused to suspend – or “stay” – implementation of the rule. The SEC said that the oil industry arguments regarding alleged competitive harm were “too speculative and unsupported by evidence to warrant a stay.”
What are they hiding?
Boakye Dankwa Boadi, a retired journalist and university lecturer is involved in the transparency movement as a volunteer with the human rights and environmental group WACAM in Ghana. His reaction to the API suit: “If companies make legal payments to the government, what are they hiding? If they don’t say what they do with their money, we are free to speculate,” he says, arguing that secret payments can fuel corruption. “With no facts and figures this perception will only grow. I’ve seen what corruption can do, and in Ghana we do not want to go the way of our big brothers who entered the oil arena before us.”
But he also says attempts to block transparency are also bad for the United States. “America has a good image to protect,” he says. “We respect and admire America and no group should dent the country’s hard-won reputation for fairness.”
Boadi has a simple message to the API: “Drop the lawsuit now, now, now.”
What you can do: Oxfam is calling on oil companies to drop their support for the API lawsuit, you can add your voice by taking this on line action.