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More Power to More People: Lessons from West Africa on Resource Transparency

Volume 42 Number 2

By Shelly Han,
Policy Advisor

In its ongoing effort to fight corruption and increase energy security, the U.S. Helsinki Commission has worked in recent years to help countries fight the resource curse. That is the phenomenon in which countries that are rich in oil, gas or minerals—resources that should be a boon to their economy—suffer lower economic growth and higher poverty than countries without extractive resources.

As the Commission’s energy policy advisor, I traveled in September 2009 with other Congressional staff to Ghana and Liberia to see how these two countries are managing their resources. This was an oportunity to compare the experience of these countries with that of resource-rich countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, who participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Specifically, our goal was to study implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Ghana and Liberia, and gauge the impact of corruption in the extractive industries on the political, social and economic climate.

EITI is a groundbreaking program because it pierces the veil of secrecy that has fostered tremendous corruption in the extractive industries around the world. At its heart, EITI is a good governance initiative that brings together the companies, the government and civil society to ensure revenue is generated for the benefit of the people, not just hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

The meetings in Africa were also part of the Commission’s work promoting the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (S. 1700), a bill designed to increase transparency in the oil and gas industry. The bill, introduced by Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), expresses support for U.S. implementation of EITI. In Ghana and Liberia, staff met with government officials, non-governmental organizations, civil society leaders, the business community, U.S. Embassy staff and other groups, trying to get as broad a perspective as possible on issues related to energy transparency.

Ghana

Ghana is a country of 23 million citizens on the west coast of Africa. Considered one of the bright spots in terms of political and economic development in the region, President Obama came here in his first presidential trip to Africa.

Known as the Gold Coast in colonial times, gold mining remains one of Ghana’s primary exports. With significant foreign investment from mining, one might think that Ghana had hit pay dirt for its economy, unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Almost 80 percent of Ghanaians live on less than $2 a day.

Gold mining in Ghana is estimated to contribute about 40 percent of total foreign exchange earnings and 6 percent of GDP. In 2007, the discovery of oil in the offshore Jubilee field launched wild expectations—and fears—for Ghana’s future. The oil and gas could bring in about $1 billion a year for Ghana, which is about 25 percent of the government’s budget. But there are fears that the windfall will increase corruption and do little to help Ghana’s citizen’s rise out of poverty.

But there is hope. In 2003 Ghana committed to implementing EITI for its mining sector and Ghana remains a candidate country today. Ghana has an EITI Secretariat and a Multi Stakeholder Steering Group in place. The country has appointed an independent EITI Aggregator/Auditor who has produced three audit reports and Ghana will shortly go through an independent audit process in order to be validated as an EITI country.

Most importantly, Ghana has pledged to implement EITI in the oil and gas sectors. During the trip, we met with a number of government officials, including the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Finance. I was impressed with their commitment to establishing an EITI process for the oil and gas revenues. While the process is not complete, and is certainly not perfect, we are optimistic that Ghana will build on the EITI progress they have already made in the mining sector and achieve similar results for the oil and gas sectors.

The international community is providing significant assistance. In meetings with U.S. officials, we learned that U.S. aid agencies will begin work in Ghana aimed at strengthening parliamentary oversight, improving regulatory, legal and fiscal management, and helping Ghana develop a workforce to meet the needs of the oil and gas sector.

Liberia

Our experience in Liberia was more sobering. Five years after a devastating civil war, Liberia struggles to move on. Fourteen-thousand United Nations troops remain in the country as peacekeepers. Eighty percent of the country’s 3.5 million citizens are unemployed. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and Africa’s first female president, has worked to stimulate investment and create job opportunities. But this is an uphill battle given the years of education and infrastructure lost during the civil war.

Extractive industries such as iron ore, gold, rubber and diamonds do provide some revenue, but the highest hopes for export revenue are placed on Liberia’s extensive forests. Sustainable timber harvesting could provide up to 60 percent of Liberia’s revenue and the international community and Liberia have spent several years and millions of dollars to make the forestry sector sustainable.

Liberia joined EITI in 2006, just a couple of years after the end of the civil war that decimated the economy and put Liberia at almost the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. It is the first country to include forestry under the rubric of EITI. On July 10, 2009, the President of Liberia signed into law the Act Establishing the Liberia EITI, making Liberia only the second country in the world (following Nigeria) to pass dedicated EITI legislation. Many implementing countries have issued presidential or ministerial decrees or have amended existing legislation to establish a legal framework for the initiative. The legislation goes beyond the core EITI requirements because it covers the forestry and rubber sectors, as well as oil, gas and mining.

But contract disputes and the economic downturn have hindered the resumption of large-scale logging in Liberia. We met with logging companies, government officials and civil society to hear the problems and were discouraged by the lack of progress. It is clear that while tremendous strides have been made in transparent reporting of revenues, there is precious little revenue to report. We spoke with some groups who were hopeful that with a strong focus on improving governance, it is possible that Liberia could develop forestry projects eligible for international carbon offsets. These offsets could generate revenue for Liberia and help meet global climate change goals at the same time.

Conclusion

In contrast with other EITI countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, we were struck by the comparatively good relations the Ghana and Liberia government ministries enjoy with civil society, and the clear desire they have shown to work together. Citizen participation was very strong in both African countries, perhaps due to the extensive public awareness campaigns that have educated citizens on their right to follow the money trail from extractive revenues.

EITI is far from the magic bullet to solve corruption problems in West Africa or elsewhere. But Ghana and Liberia show that incremental progress is possible, and that transparency in the extractive industries can build a foundation for good governance in other sectors as well.

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