Hurray! Oil at last!

The Ebo Quansah Column

Ebo Quansah

The long wait has been worthwhile. After a century of prospecting for oil, and three and half years of waiting on the flow after the discovery of the black gold in commercial quantities, the first drum of oil was poured yesterday, after Head of State John Evans Atta Mills had turned on the wheels of fortune.

It was a joyous day, as cultural troupes turned the tarmac of the Takoradi Airport into a drama studio. President Mills could not hide his ecstasy. After turning the wheel, Prof. Atta Mills spoke to Ghanaian officials on the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah. “We rejoice this day,” asking workers on the drilling site and the vessel to work hard to justify the confidence reposed in them by fellow Ghanaians.

He promised that officialdom would use the resources from the oil prudently for the development of the nation.  It was akin to the events leading to independence in March 1957, though fewer people were privileged to participate in the official ceremony welcoming the black gold.

Someone would have to explain why the two former heads of state invited to the ceremony at the back of roof-top advertisements were abandoned on the tarmac, while the President flew by helicopter to the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah to turn on the wheel of fortune.

I would like to believe ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor and the founder of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, were invited specifically to share in the glory of oil flow. The two leaders played leading roles in the discovery of the black gold in the first place.

It was Flt. Lt. Rawlings who set up the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) in 1983, and charged it with promoting the exploration and production of crude oil.

The GNPC, under its Chief Executive, Tsatsu Tsikata, attracted many prospecting companies to the country. The GNPC hosted the first Oil and Gas Confab in Ghana to raise the profile for oil exploration in this country.

Ex-President Kufuor was the leader at the time oil was discovered in commercial quantities in June 2007. It was the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration of the ‘Gentle Giant’ who commissioned the construction of the floating vessel that was later to be named FPSO Kwame Nkrumah.

One would like to believe that it was with this achievement of the two leaders in mind that the administration of Prof. John Evans Atta Mills invited them to be part of the grand party. When the helicopters began taking off from the tarmac at the Takoradi Airport to the FPSO, there was a lively debate among a group of journalists and my humble self that the two leaders were in the entourage to the vessel.

When the President got off the helicopter, that took him to the vessel, and headed towards the launch site, we were still nursing the feeling that the two former leaders were waiting at the launch site.

Sad to state that when the President turned on the wheels, with television cameras beaming the pictures live, the two leaders were conspicuously absent. Instead, there was Koku Anyidoho parading the vessel as if he had contributed much towards the oil discovery and drilling.

Whoever decided to abandon the two leaders on the tarmac has an explanation to give Ghanaians. I do not buy the notion that space was limited on the vessel. It does not show recognition. Neither does it do justice to respect for the two former first gentlemen of the land.

If someone like Koko Anyidoho could be accommodated on the vessel, I do not understand why the two former leaders who played leading roles in the whole episode of searching for and discovering oil, should be so shabbily treated.

The good news is that the discovery of oil would ease the strain on the economy to some extent. Officials say about $580 million would accrue to the state in the first year of operation.

When the flow of oil hits the 120,000 barrels a day, which is expected within the next year or two, the nation stands to gain by about $1 billion from the black gold annually.

According to the agreement outlined by Kwamena Bartels, Minister of Information when oil was first struck in 2007, Ghana’s share of the oil revenue is 10 percent. In addition to that, there is a revenue tax of 35 percent of whatever is earned from drilling oil in this land of our birth, while the GNPC has the option to acquire two and half percent extra shares.

Ghanaians should realise though, that the flow of oil does not mean the end to the economic malaise of this economically-challenged state.  We need to learn from our neighbouring nations which struck oil and abandoned their traditional means of livelihoods. We need to focus on the production of cocoa and other traditional exports even the more to improve on our balance of payment position.

When chiefs in the Western Region demanded 10 percent of oil revenue to be set aside for the development of the region, many were those who derided the idea.  But the region, especially, the area close to the oil rig, will take the brunt of the exploration and drilling.

Already, there are reports of a hike in rent rates in the Sekondi-Takoradi twin city, as a result of the oil find. With many companies and individuals prepared to pay a king’s ransom for accommodation, there is a strain on the average tenant to fork out more money to have a roof over his head.

The cost of living is already rising. There are indications that it would continue to rise above the national average.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that, at least in Africa, the costs of living in all oil producing countries are higher than the average nation on the continent without oil find.

At the last African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola, many Ghanaian journalists could not afford the rates for standard hotels. Food was equally expensive.  Inter city and intra-city transport had been hiked above what most people were used to in Ghana. All these point to the fact that life in Ghana, already hiked above the means of most nationals, is going to be harder.

I am beginning to nurse the feeling that promises come naturally to the current head of state. Ghanaians have not forgotten the many pledges made by Prof. John Evans Atta Mills on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, most of the promises have ended up in the heap of the trash can.

On the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah vessel, after turning on the wheels yesterday, the President promised that his government would take good care of the oil revenue for the benefit of all Ghanaians.

The pledge may be well-intended. Evidence abounds that this particular head of state has a zero tolerance for keeping pledges.

It is not too long ago, when Prof. Atta Mills stood in the podium at Parliament House and said he never ever remembers promising to put money in the pockets of Ghanaians during the election campaign.

Even then, one hopes the promise delivered aboard the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah would be kept.

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