Let's protect oil revenues from politicians - Amoako-Tuffuor

A Ghanaian economist, on Tuesday called for concrete measures to be put in place to ensure that the expected oil revenue was based on sustainable fiscal policies that transcended political regimes. "We have to put long-term measures in place to ensure that we protect the expected oil revenue from politicians," Professor Joe Amoako-Tuffuor, Adviser to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, said. "I do not hate politicians, because I would like to be one in the future, but politicians are very likely to spend state funds injudiciously if the rules and measures are not put in place to safeguard the interest of posterity," he said. Prof. Amoako-Tuffuor, also a lecturer at Francis Xavier University in Canada, was speaking on the theme: "Ghana: Options of the Oil Revenue Management", at a day's public forum organized by the Centre for Policy Analysis. He noted that transforming of oil revenue into development depended on quality of spending and sustainability of fiscal policies across political regimes. Prof. Amoako-Tuffuor said that to ensure that oil revenue was protected from injudicious spending by different political regimes, there was the need to build state institutions to ensure a broad-based inter-sectoral management of the revenue. "Let us not assume that we have the necessary strong institutions for the effective management of the oil revenue because we don't," he said. Prof Amoako-Tuffuor noted, for instance that when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building was burnt, it also exposed the weakness of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), saying that should be an indication to "us that we need to strengthen state institutions". Prof. Amoako-Tuffuor also called for a 10 to 15-year long-term development plan specifically on how to apply the oil revenue, saying that there was also the need for a series three to five-year medium-term plans within which identified priorities for development and financing needs would be catered for. He suggested that the main areas of spending that would yield long-term benefits for the country included spending on software such as public safety, law and order, good governance and accountability, culture as well as the strengthening of processes and institutions of economic management. "Spending on (these) areas would ensure transparency and good governance in the management of oil revenue and thereby prevent the situation in Kuwait, where politicians keep the people in the dark as to how much money was in their oil heritage fund," he said. Prof. Amoako-Tuffuor said there was also the need to spend on housing, roads and transport, water and sanitation, human capital development, energy, agriculture and petrochemicals. He proposed that in spite of the huge investment needs of the country, there was the need to save a huge chunk of the oil revenue for posterity, considering that the oil discovered was finite. "We must learn from the experiences of other oil rich countries and avoid the mistake of spending lavishly and save some of the revenue for posterity," he said. Tuffuor said the best practices in terms of saving oil revenue included either the setting up of heritage fund strictly for posterity or a single fund for investments both now and in the future. Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, also an economist, said the application of oil revenue would depend largely on the investment needs of the country, adding that currently there was a huge investment backlog in infrastructure across the country. Dr. Joe Abbey, Director of CEPA, who presided, called on extra vigilance on the oil revenue to ensure that politicians did not spend the money unwisely but remained sober and delivered maximum benefits to Ghanaians. He noted that wise spending would be spending on items that would make Ghana be prepared to face the challenges of climate change and to meet other technological needs for future survival. "The kind of vigilance we need should go beyond written down rules and regulations because politicians have never gone by the rules when it comes to public spending," he said. Dr. Abbey noted that public expectation of the oil revenue was beyond what was real, saying that foreign investors would have to recoup their investments before Ghana could think of benefits, but it seemed the public were expecting monetary rewards almost immediately production started. "Our benefits will come through how we manage what we get over the long-term," he said