By Seibik Bugri
Stakeholders with keen interest in the governance of extractive industries and how resources therein are used have bemoaned the seeming lackadaisical attitude of Ghanaian Journalists towards the sector and pressed home the urgent need for them to double their efforts in throwing more light on to the sector.
Members of the Institute of Financial and Economic Journalist (IFEJ) and other extractive reporters do not make follow ups, or tracking of developments, particularly on how oil and gas revenue is being used they cried.
The German Development partner Giz, and Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) representative on the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) all observed over the weekend that the public now trust the media more than the Presidency; Members of Parliament or officialdom and so the last hope is for the media to show the way. Adding ?media focus on how oil and gas revenues are used are far more credible than any source now?. The Ministry of Energy is failing us, the Presidency is failing us, the Ministry of Finance is failing us, and you are our hope?. Allan Lassey of Giz revealed.
The refresher course the first in the year was for selected members of the Institute of Economic & Financial Journalists (IFEJ) as part of the continuous knowledge building sponsored by Giz, with support from SECO of Switzerland.
Questionable Spending ?
With over US$100 million spent on capacity building, observers are questioning whose capacity is being built by Government with such huge amount of oil revenue? How can so much of the oil be allocated to the Presidency for infrastructure? Members of IFEJ were told to put in more in these areas by holding the Government accountable to the people.
Stakeholders decried instances of very serious questionable spending of oil revenue by Government without recourse to future generations. And that the media is failing Ghanaians by not putting in more and asking the right questions. They (media) were told to devote more efforts to ensure that by the time Ghana?s oil is exhausted, a significant investment can be pointed at. Adding his voice, Lloyd Evans, President of Ifej reminded the reporters to put in more efforts in tracking and follow ?ups on how oil revenue is been used.
Educating the journalists on the need to double their efforts, Yaw Owusu Addo, the GJA member on PIAC imagined what the situation would look like if just one oil well has given Ghana $2.7 billion what will happen if the 23 wells under construction come on board and the revenue doubles? ? That is why journalist must double their efforts in tracing oil and gas revenue making sure that those who are in-charge are accountable to the people?.
He encouraged the reporters to steadfast in their job despite threats. He reminded them that the constitution of Ghana demands that reporters probe the activities of the people in charge of the resources. The effective and judicious use of oil revenue should be gradual to take care of price volatility. The Journalist turned Lawyer said the current behavior of oil prices should inform the managers of our resources to be careful to avoid the ?resource curse? he advised.
Owusu Addo reminded the journalists that Ghanaians consciously wanted to avoid the negative aspect of the discovery as exemplified by Norway, Trinidad & Tobago and so passed the Petroleum Revenue Management Act 2011 (Act 815) and that this will not be achieved without a fight. Adding that the fight was a call to duty to Ifej members and other journalists who now remain the only hope of the people.
The importance of safe guarding oil revenues can be seen again in another measure aimed at ensuring effective use of oil revenue in the formation of PIAC, but as we read PIAC has no budget to run its projects and is being supported by donor Community. Since PIAC cannot or do not have prosecuting powers and is deliberately strangled by Ministry of Finance, it is the media?s duty to carry on that job. Composed of 13 civil, public and private bodies, one wonders if they all are toothless. The Ministry of Finance should not be allowed to continue to frustrate PIAC all because it wants to have its way without being accountable to Ghanaians. It is not secret that Parliament that should represent the interest of the people is doing nothing.
Today, as you read this report the quarterly report of PIAC for 2014 has not been released because of funding. To whose benefit is that? In whose interest will the ?death? of PIAC be? Is it the Government through Ministry of Finance, Members of Parliament or all Ghanaians? Per their mandate PIAC cannot take a legal action to compel Government to resource it to perform. But can?t the 13 bodies do anything? Being a collective job the general public is also urged to take interest in how PIAC is being funded.