BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE
Traditional Rulers, Civil Society and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in the Western Region, have called on duty-bearers in the oil and Gas industry to, as a matter of urgency, develop a regional capacity for adequate and comprehensive responses to any disaster or mass casualty that may result from the activities of the oil and gas industry.
According to them, such capacity must incorporate the upgrading and the improvement of the capacity of the existing accident and emergency centre, while the plans for a Regional Teaching Hospital should be fast tracked.
They have also asked the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) and the headquarters of the oil and gas industry to be moved to the region, to promote the spatial planning of Ghana.
Making this call through a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day development forum held in Takoradi on September 24 and 25, 2010, the representatives also asked that linkages be promoted to ensure community participation in the governance, exploitation and the processing of the natural resource and environmental sector.
Participants at the forum further recommended the development of a Western Region accelerated growth programme to harness the economic potential of the region in human resource, mining, agric, forestry, fisheries, tourism and manufacturing, adding, “Sekondi-Takoradi should be developed into an industrial hub for oil and gas, agri-business, finance and tourism.”
Representatives of the Traditional Rulers, Civil Society and Community Based Organisations in the Western Region, proposed further that the government of the Republic of Ghana should, as a matter of urgency, establish a Western Regional Development Fund to facilitate accelerated development of the region, with the hope that this will help mute the strong and growing sentiment of alienation and marginalisation.
Per the communiqué, the participants further recommended that the oil, mining and other companies operating in the region should work closely with the regional authorities, the House of Chiefs and the communities, to develop a comprehensive regional CSR plan, adding that the working group should promote and facilitate the implementation of a Western Regional accelerated development programme.
“The Working Group should help facilitate a Development Partners Roundtable to align external support” and “The Private Sector Groups in the region should organise, promote, attract and connect to any development programme of and for the region,” they proposed.
The communiqué also tasked the Working Group to promote active multicultural actors, platforms of civil society, traditional authorities, the private sector and knowledge institutions to participate actively in thinking, influencing and monitoring plans for the region
According to the workshop participants, their recommendations were informed by the fact that in spite of the Western Region’s substantial natural resource contribution to the national economy as the largest producer of cocoa, largest contributor of timber, sole producer of rubber, second highest producer of gold with the potential to become the highest if the current rate of prospecting continues, sole producer of manganese and bauxite and among the leading contributors in tourism and foreign remittances, the people and the communities in the region have not derived proportionate and commensurate benefits in terms of development.
They said apart from the current infrastructural underdevelopment as well as poor health facilities and services, poor road networks, high illiteracy levels, high unemployment and out-migration of the youth, the region also experiences a high school drop-out rate and a very low school enrolment, whilst only 4.15% of the indigenes of the region have access to secondary education.
The participants also expressed the fear that the emerging oil and gas industry may in all likelihood perpetuate the poverty of the Western Region if the status quo prevails, noting among other things that the current medium term development framework under preparation by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), barely mentions the Western Growth Corridor Development Initiative.
They again lamented that the oil boom in the region is already hurting citizens and residents in increasing rents, prices, congestion and pressure on land use and services and that presently “just over 40% of Western Region is connected to the national grid – far below the 60% national average, whilst the low capacity transformers installed at district capitals in the region have led to frequent power outages.”
The chiefs, civil organisations and CBOs also expressed their chagrin that in telecommunications, the Western Region’s teledensity is 0.3 telephones per 100 people, which is far below the national average of 0.7 per 100 people
The forum was held under the theme: “Preparing Minds and Space with Respect to the Oil and Gas Culture” and was facilitated by the Nana Kobina Nketsia IV Trust with the support of Tullow Oil Ghana, Skyy Media Group, the Ghana Office of the World Bank, Friends of the Nation and the Coastal Resources Centre, Ghana.