It’s a bright morning at Atuabo in the Western Region, and scores of young men and women are idling under a wooden shed. Wearing tattered clothes and looking clumsy, these indigenes are idle and appear hesitant as I approach the shed.
For 15 minutes, the about forty young members of the Atuabo community under the shed, are quarrelling among each other; fighting to speaking to me about the challenges facing their community and the impact of the Oil and Gas industry in their area.
At a point the heated exchanges turned into a sexist attack with the men showing the women the exit to make their case first. After calming them down, the anger was obvious.
“My brother we were born and live at Atuabo. The plant you see over there is on our land given to us by our forefathers. But look at us we have no jobs. A community of more than two thousand young men and women, none of us have been employed. Even if they have employed people from here I don’t think they are more four in there. Is that not terrible? They claim we are not skilled which I agree but why won’t they train us”, one of them said.
My visit to the Ellembelle constituency, where the Atuabo Gas plant is located and other surrounding constituencies such as the Jomoro constituency illuminated the possible danger to the country as a result of the growing unemployment rate in the oil producing constituencies.
Although oil production in Ghana is offshore, the processing of gas and other allied petroleum products is done on the main land and expectations for job opportunities from the oil and gas industry continues to rise by the day.
After visiting some communities in the “oil areas” such as Tikobo number one and Tikobo number two, I am more convinced that we are gradually replicating with pride, the unforgivable mistakes made by our neighbours, Nigeria.
Many farmlands have been occupied by oil companies and chiefs on realizing the financial nectar associated with oil production have not wasted time in selling off farmlands and community assets, much of which is not reinvested back in the communities.
As a journalist who has reported on security issues for years, I have seen many criminals who have been arrested and jailed and unemployment is a major factor that pushes young men and women to break the law. A conscious effort by the state and local authorities to ensure that there is enough local participation and employment roles to indigenes and community members has not been enough.
As usual a lot of resources has been invested into the creation of a legislative instrument to guarantee the local participation of local companies and individuals in the booming oil industry but not much has been seen.
The L.I. 2204.contains some regulations such as ;
(a) Promote the maximization of value-addition and job creation through the use of local expertise, goods and services, businesses and financing in the petroleum industry value chain and their retention in the country; (b) Develop local capacities in the petroleum industry value chain through education, skills transfer and expertise development, transfer of technology and know-how and active research and development programmes; (c) Achieve the minimum local employment level and in-country spend for the provision of the goods and services in the petroleum industry value chain as specified in the First Schedule; (d) Increase the capability and international competitiveness of domestic businesses; (e) create petroleum and related supportive industries that will sustain economic development; (f) Achieve and maintain a degree of control for Ghanaians over development initiatives for local stakeholders.
The application of this law is the surest way to guarantee and ensure the local participation of individuals and local companies. As we speak there are rising concerns on who the responsibility lies to ensure and enforce this particular L.I. Industry and various economic chambers have complained about the lack of skilled labour in Ghana to allow Ghanaians and qualified companies to participate in the oil and gas industry. In an interview with Citi Business news some months ago, the Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Ghana Industries Seth Twum Akwaboah stated that “there are certain areas that due to the nature of they being technical or capital intensive make it difficult for local companies to meet up with competition.
The situation is also attributed to the nature of the lack of enough expertise on the part of the local entities. But I think what the Petroleum Commission is doing is that when you submit your local content plan, they monitor and ensure that you have a clear plan of gradually transferring knowledge, expertise or information to local people so that they can come up”.
The huge equipment used by the large oil companies with respect to their vessels and drilling machines is also having a toll on the fishing trade. A fisherman I spoke to at Half Assini two weeks ago was convinced that the noise and beam of thick lights emanating from the vessels has destroyed the ecosystem in the ocean further denying them of any bumper harvest. With thousands of fishermen along the western coast and the indirect jobs provided by the fishing industry, a fair environmental impact assessment must be made to save the jobs of thousands of people and to protect the environment.
In a country where the legal regime and the relevant institutions in the oil sector are not strong enough to protect the interest of Ghanaians, a radical reform by the state is required to halt the menace of unemployment in oil producing areas. This is key to ensuring that we prevent heated and violent attacks associated with unemployment in some oil producing countries such as the Niger Delta in Nigeria.