Ghana’s oil: Why access to information is crucial

The  Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Spring 2011 newsletter is out and the cover story is devoted to Ghana’s new oil industry.

Adwoa Adu Ampofo, writing from the Accra CHRI office, stresses the urgent need for Ghana to pass “Access to Information” legislation:

In order to improve government levels of transparency and accountability, it is crucial that the Right to Information Bill is passed alongside the Petroleum Management Bills. The founding principle of the Right to Information Bill is maximum disclosure, which requires that government makes non-exempt information on governance available to the public without the need of an application, so as to equip the public with the information that they require to make a meaningful contribution to national development. Further, it is broadly recognised that transparency and free flow of information reduce corruption and play a vital role in empowering people to demand their rights and public services. The advantage of the Right to Information Bill is that it is not just exclusive to the petroleum and natural resource sectors but that it spans all sectors.

President Mills signed the recently passed Petroleum Revenue Management bill into law last week, but the Freedom of Information bill is still languishing in Parliament.

In an Oxfam blog post on the new Petroleum Revenue Management law, Ian Gary, Senior Policy Manager for Extractive Industries at Oxfam America, writes that the new law is among the “encouraging signs that Ghana is building in transparency and accountability measures into the legal framework for managing its oil boom.”  In the same article, Gary nonetheless highlights remaining challenges adding, “The only way to hold government accountable is to arm citizens, not with weapons, but with information.”

At the Accra launch of Ghana’s “Oil Readiness Report,” the report authors criticized Ghana’s reluctance to pass access to information legislation:

A strong and comprehensive Freedom of Information law is an important cornerstone of good governance more broadly and would reinforce transparency safeguards in the oil and gas sector. Although the current and previous governments promised to pass a strong Freedom of Information law to help the free flow of information, they have reneged on their promise, at least for now.

In my own reporting, I am meeting with a number of officials and finding that the information I gather varies widely from person to person. I come out of interviews with conflicting information on environmental studies, oil spill contingency efforts, community compensation plans, etc. When pressed for details, officials often tell me that certain documents are “sensitive,” or “not available for public viewing.” Without any Freedom of Information laws in place, I am unable to verify statements. When an official assures me that “everything is under control,” yet will not produce any supporting documents, it’s hard for me to take his claims seriously.

In the next few days  I’ll write more and post video on the difficulties of separating fact from fiction and intention from action in Ghana’s oil and gas sector.






One Response to “Ghana’s oil: Why access to information is crucial”

  1. Sam says:

    Gathering information from officials is a pain.

    At least Ghana’s oil contracts seem to be published right now…

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