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Archive for November, 2013

Over the past few weeks the disappearance of a drill-ship belonging to Ghana’s National Petroleum Company (GNPC) has featured heavily in Ghanaian media. When the story first broke, in mid-October, the newspapers presented a story of a ship that had just gone of the radar. A radio-host suggested that maybe the ship was attacked by pirates? As the story unfolds, the pirates in this case are not those at sea, but those well placed inside government offices.

When Ghana discovered domestic oil of the west coast they decided to commercialize its national petroleum company to utilize its oil resources according to ‘international best practices’. The rebranding of the company included removing its regulatory powers to detach the company from the state bureaucracy. So far, GNPC’s previous entanglement with the government is bringing down its new strategy as an efficient national petroleum company seeking to maximize the Ghanaian share of the petroleum resources. The disappearance of the ship is one of these examples, having to give away its share of the jubilee field to China for a loan is another.

As it turns out, the drilling ship belonging to GNPC was sold in 2001 to pay a judgement debt to the French Bank Societe Generale ordered by a UK court. However, there are no transcripts or documentation that the sale of the drilling ship was ordered by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. Furthermore, the Bank of Ghana is not able to trace the sale or the record of whom received the money. The 24 million worth drilling ship is gone, and so is the money. Even the deal that was struck with the French bank in the 1990s is questionable. What is the result of this mess? It is too early to make final conclusions; people are still blaming their predecessors and holding on to details that exclude them from the case. As for the new and improved GNPC, they have hired a new CEO, one with a reputation for cleaning up the downstream petroleum industry, and who is now expected to do the same with the upstream industry.

My research is actually based in the downstream petroleum industry, which is the refining, marketing and retail of petroleum products. The GNPC is a part the upstream, the development and extracting of oil-fields. However, the story of the ship that disappeared seems to reflect Ghana’s petroleum industry as a whole. Huge resources go missing, there is a short process of shame and blame, and the same people who were to blame are relocated to another part of the industry. For the downstream industry this is well exemplified with the countries only refinery, Tema Oil Refinery (TOR). The refinery’s debt is extremely high, and a great portion of that was attracted within the last 15 years. Some of the people who were responsible for the mismanagement of the refinery now own one of the biggest oil-import companies, making of course a huge profit on the fact that the refinery is not working properly (while also being responsible for it!).

Who pays for this? The Ghanaian petrol consumer. In the petroleum product price build up, one of the price factors is the ‘TOR debt recovery levy”. This means, that whenever Ghanaians pay for their petrol at a filling station they also pay for the mismanagement of TOR (implying that they are paying official price at a legal station). This is of course not common knowledge among the Ghanaian population, which is repeatedly assured by the government that the Ghanaian oil story is going to be a very different one to that seen in sub-Saharan Africa the last decades.

Monica Skaten, CAS PhD student

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