I was recently in Ghana for some preliminary work on an evaluation project that a few colleagues at IPRE Group and I will be working on later this year. On my trip I talked to people engaged in transparency initiatives targeting Ghana’s extractive sector. Most of you probably know that Ghana is the second biggest exporter of gold in the region, after South Africa. It also recently joined the club of African oil exporters. In the recent past Ghana has been touted as a model for transparency and accountability in the resource sector (I wrote about it here). EITI commended the country for going beyond the recommended minimum reporting threshold. That said, the country still has a long way to go, especially with regard to the gold sector (most of the publicized initiatives concentrate on the oil sector, forgetting the much older gold mining sector.)
My conversations with some of the CSOs working on various kinds of transparency initiatives revealed to me that the problem of government opaqueness in reference to resource sectors is not just because of lack of political will. It is also about governments’ lack of capacity to supply accountability. Take the example of oil drilling. In order to provide transparency to its citizens the government has to have a proper revenue management system (complete with accurate models of predicted production, prices, etc); well trained technical staff that can hold their own against the savvy experts (engineers, geologists, etc) of the oil companies; and the technical means of delivering information in a digestible form to the masses. As it is in most governments, Ghana included, ministries in charge of resources are often staffed by loyal political appointees, some whom lack the technical expertise to effectively carry out their jobs.
This is not to downplay the political economy aspects of resource sector accountability. Just to say that there is a difference between Obiang’ and Mahama. For the former, technical fixes may do little to increase transparency in Equatorial Guinea’s oil sector. But for the latter, the political situation necessitates the provision of set minimum levels of accountability. So to the extent that there is a failure to do so in the case of Ghana we should not be quick to scream politics but instead also consider ways of improving the state’s capacity to supply transparency and accountability.