Oil & Gas industry dynamics require job security for regulators and players

BY: By Dotsey Koblah Aklorbortu, SEKOND/TAKORADI

Players in the country’s oil and gas industry have expressed shock at reports making the rounds that the current Chief Executive Officer of the Petroleum Commission is to be axed and the post handed to a “politically aligned” person.

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The industry upstream sector players kicking against any such move suggest the best way forward would be to establish a board whose members have proven expertise in the industry who will focus on supporting the commission and allied bodies – the National Oil Company (NOC), the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), and the Ghana National Gas Company (Ghana Gas), and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the interest of the country.

They maintain that though Ghana recently joined the comity of oil producing nations, progress made so far would come to nothing if changes in governments continue to affect the critical areas such as leadership of the regulator.

Speaking to the Executive Director of the Ghana Oil and Gas Service Providers Association (GOGSPA), Mr. Nuetey Adzeman, he described the current chief executive officer, Theo N. Ahwireng, as passionate and apt for the industry.


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The Chief Executive Officer of the Petroleum Commission Theophilus Ahwireng

 

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“Therefore, changing him would be a great disservice to the young industry in Ghana – what we need is rather a strong board with people who have the requisite understanding of the industry to support the commission to succeed,” he said.

“To us at GOGSPA, the industry would be shaken to its foundation and it will be the greatest mistake that the current team at the commission is touched,” he said.

At the recent Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, Texas, he said CEO, Theo N. Ahwireng, a geophysicist with high industry pedigree, made the country proud after stating a strong case for Ghana as an investment destination.

According to Mr. Adzeman, the congregation of industry players, government representatives and investors acknowledged Theo Ahwireng’s spirited presentation with a standing ovation as he sold the industry and why Ghana should be the preferred destination for oil and gas exploration.

He said, Mr. Ahwireng was bestowed with a lifetime achievement award at the 24th Africa Oil Week in Cape Town, SA, and easily pass as the face of the country’s oil and gas industry.

An oil and gas law lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, Mr. Constantine Kudzedzi, also said for institutions such as regulators of the new industry, there is the need to ensure solid, independent teams.

He said that could only be achieved if people who are masters of their fields and have built solid foundations are allowed to put the country first ahead of any other interest.

It is obvious that precedents of the country’s extractive sector left the resource owners with very little to appreciate when it comes to cocoa, timber, gold, bauxite and manganese, among others.

On May 16, 2017 the rumour mill kicked into action, and particularly on social media, with suggestions such as; “News Just in – suspended general secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Mr. Kwabena Agyei Agyepong has been appointed as the new CEO of the Petroleum Commission.”

Someone who forwarded the message to me also wanted to know if “that was true?” I responded in the negative and thought it would be one bad news for Ghana if it turned out true.

The emergence of oil and gas in Ghana in 2007 provided the country with another opportunity to correct all the misfortunes visited on the country in the era of booming gold, timber and other God-given natural resources, especially so as expectations rather remain high, with many still hoping the latest industry holds better prospects for them. It is therefore important that managers of various state agencies that fail to follow the established principles of good corporate governance, face the music. If the country desires indeed to correct the largely negative legacies of gold and timber, there is need to ensure a strong regulatory framework beyond and above partisan politics. It is key if institutions must work, and they must.

Of course no official of these strategic national installations is indispensable, but the highly technical oil and gas industry is so crucial it can do without some of these self-inflicted crisis in the name of cronyism.

 

Former Tullow Boss
In the early parts of 2010 and before the first oil from the country’s independent oil field, Jubilee, offshore Tano Basin, I was part of a meeting between the lead operator Tullow Oil and its partners.

The then Tullow country manager, Mr. Dai Jones, told the meeting in Singapore that one of their most difficult challenges operating in the country had to do with the change of officers in government offices resulting from the change of government – those in regulatory and others playing other critical roles.

He was just being candid with the meeting. Merely playing the political cards is no magic wand, and certainly not within an industry requiring professional oversight and hands with demonstrable expertise whose tenure and jobs must be secured from the cyclical turbulence. With declining crude prices across the globe, industry players need to be deep rather than peripheral.

My point is that if Ghana wants to get it right, and respond positively to changing trends, we have to adopt corporate governance to ensure institutions already under boards operate independently of needless political intrusions.

We should ensure the boards are packed with competent hands to effectively supervise the performance of chief executives and other management staff rather than those who will be conduits for political manipulation.

Having worked closely in the industry, I indeed understate the obvious in saying that it takes new entrants lengthy periods to understand the dynamics of the industry. Regulating, managing industry/communities and effectively communicating expectations of oil and gas is not an “as usual” one.

As a country we can remain relevant in the business of oil production with our best hands; and on the flipside, wait to be hurt like others before us, by the so-called oil curse if we do the wrong things.