When Barack Obama said here in Ghana that Africa needed strong institutions and not strong men, the applause was collective; everybody in the country, including those who feel strong institutions threaten their political machismo, felt the American president had said something profound.
Of course, as compared to peers in Africa Ghana ranks high in creating institutions and allowing them to work for the betterment of society; but the manner government is treating the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) leaves a lot to be desired.
For the committee to have been struggling just to acquire an office space from where it can conduct its business is a national disgrace, especially so for a country that prides itself in adhering to the principles of transparency and accountability.
Government has been busy telling the international community how open it has been in the management of oil revenues; it prides itself in submitting to scrutiny under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and all.
But can the government of Ghana pride itself in resourcing PIAC, an institution created not by foreign undertaking but by the parliament of Ghana to monitor how oil revenues are spent? Certainly not.
PIAC has just been evicted from its rented office premises and has had to go back and “perch” with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), formerly the Revenue Watch Institute — which has in the past been accused of interfering in the committee’s work.
Created under the Petroleum Revenue Management Law, the 13-member citizen-based committee is supposed to issue two reports for each financial year — a semi-annual and an annual report — detailing oil revenues that have accrued to the national coffers and tracking how they have or are being used.
The year is almost ended and the committee is yet to issue even the first semi-annual report for 2014, due to lack of funding.
But for the assistance of organisations like the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and the GIZ, the committee would be unlikely to even exist today.
The half-hearted manner in which those in government have approached issues about PIAC’s funding must stop. The committee must not be seen by government officers as a fault-finding one, for which reason they must starve it of the funds needed to carry out its mandate.
Parliament, the body that created the committee, should be up and doing and get the executive arm of government to do the necessary in this matter. In fact, if needs be parliament must ensure that in the review of the Petroleum Revenue Management Law, PIAC is guaranteed a dedicated source of funding.
The funding of PIAC should not be left to the whims and caprices of any politician; the Ministry of Finance should not have the discretion to decide whether or not to make money available to PIAC.
As has been suggested variously, part of the oil money should be dedicated to the activities of PIAC. Ghanaians deserve to know what the over-US$2billion earned so far as oil revenues and subsequent earnings have been and will be used for.
The five reports issued by the committee so far are important reference material for people wanting information for various purposes. The revelations and recommendations in the reports must serve as a wake-up call for government to be more single-minded in prioritising spending areas with oil money.
PIAC deserves better; Ghana deserves better!