Mr Speaker, I say that to suggest that we Hon Members of this august House are about to, as it were, pass
a Bill that would have ramifications for the times that we may not be around. So it is important that we pay attention to the impact on the future.
Mr Speaker, petroleum is a very unique resource. It is non-renewable, unlike cocoa and other things which are around. It is non-renewable, so its use must be subject to very critical analysis. It is for this reason that some of us, having sat with the Committee for almost two to three weeks now, do think that this is one of the most important pieces of legislation that this House is going to pass.
Mr Speaker, if we look at the
experiences around the world, and here I want to recommend that Hon Members of the House read an article by Colleague, Professor Appiah-Kubi on the case of Nigeria, that was published sometime last week in one of the newspapers -- very brilliant article on what happened to Nigeria when they were in a similar position twenty something years ago.
Mr Speaker, what I find amazing is that, and here the Government needs to be commended, it has spent a considerable amount of time, not only looking at the aspect of the Bill, but also touring the nation to find out what others think about that. So as we look at so-called proposed amendments, we should pay particular attention to the Government's own intentions as embedded in this explanatory memorandum so that when we offer amendments, we are conscious of the reasons for the Government bringing this Bill.
One of the things that I find most remarkable about this Bill is clause 5. Why do I say that? Mr Speaker, with permission, let me read the first paragraph of the memorandum which says -
“The purpose of this Bill is to provide for a framework that will guide the efficient collection,
allocation and management of petroleum revenue for the benefit of current and future generations of Ghanaians.”
The key words here are “the benefit of current and future generations.” This is why I find clause 5 as originally submitted, one of the most important clauses.
Mr Speaker, if you go to (ii) in the Exploratory Memorandum, you will find why this is so important to the Government and with your permission, let me read the last line:
“They also underscore the important fact that, except for stabilisation purposes, what is set aside for long- term savings is not to be seen as development fund but rather as an endowment for the future.”
Mr Speaker, this is the Government bringing this Bill to us and this is the main reason, the crux of why savings are being made. So, if you go to clause 5 and you see the heading that says, “Prohibited use of Petroleum Account”, it is important that Members advert their minds to why that is there because the savings are not for development but as endowment for the future.
As I said, we will not be here or we might be here but not in Parliament. So it is important that the decision we take now, we are conscious of what our grandchildren are going to do. This is why I think, if there is any provision in this Bill, which must be kept in its current form, it must be this clause 5 that talks about -- particularly subclause 2 -
In order to preserve revenue stream from petroleum and ensure the object of this Act, there shall not be any borrowing against the Petroleum Reserves.”
Precisely because we want to create an endowment for the future; we should not think about the current generations,
so as to spend it on current things. So, as we look at the Committee's Report, it is important to find out that the arguments being proffered, I believe on page 8 of the Committee's Report, are quite essential.
The Committee found it difficult also to agree to a provision about what should be the Annual Budget Funding Amount. When the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning team went round, this is what they found and with your permission, I want to read:
“Specifically, about 56 per cent of respondents want Government to spend between fifty to seventy per cent of current petroleum revenues.”
This is what they found out there, slightly more than half of this group favours spending between sixty to seventy per cent. So it appears that the Ministry's information is partially informed by what they heard out there and they are sort of trying to address the concerns of the community. Should we be spending more than seventy or more than fifty? If you think about - it is true that there are huge infrastructural deficits in this country, so as we debate the specific sum, we should be paying attention to that.
But let us not forget that because there is also a stabilisation fund, which in times of crisis, automatically, part of it goes to the annual budget funding amount, in principle - in theory, a large amount of it close to ninety per cent as currently proposed may be going to the budget amount. So it is important as we debate this, we look at the concerns of the people out there and exactly what the priorities are.
Mr Speaker, there is a problem in the Bill, serious deficit. The Bill is being proposed when there is a big vacuum
in terms of any agreed upon long-term national development plan. This is a huge deficit and Parliament ought to be paying attention to how we can cure this deficit because without that, there is difficulty in agreeing on the way forward. And here, I think the Bill does not address itself to that. It says, where there is no national development plan, such must happen but it is important that if there were a long term national development plan, we will know the requirements and it will be much easier for us to determine the Annual Budget Funding Amount for the year.
Clearly, any government should be given the opportunity once money is going into the Budget to be able to use it to propagate its development agenda. So some of us have no difficulty, no difficulty that if Parliament, in its wisdom, chooses “X” percentage, then it is only fair that just like normal tax revenues, Government can use that amount to do what it says it wants to do. But here, we do not even have a formal medium-term plan that Parliament has seen. We do not have a long-term plan, so the best we can work on is perhaps, a manifesto of a sitting Government and that is what we have.
So it is difficult for some of us to want to jump to a high number when there is no solid basis for proposing that number. So there, I want to caution that because we do not have an approved medium-term plan and also we do not have a long- term plan, we should be cautious and maybe, for the first year, limit ourselves to the bare minimum and when we have agreed to come up with a long-term plan -- and here, I urge Parliament to strongly recommend that, that long-term national plan should be produced within a year, so that we can see our way forward.
Mr Speaker, the third issue and perhaps, one of the most controversial issues in this Bill, is the different views on oversight and transparency.
When the Government went round, and here, let me read what it found.
On page 9 of the Report submitted by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and here, I quote:
“. . . about 83 per cent see the need for some form of separate public oversight committee.”
Mr Speaker, it is true that we those who are in Parliament are elected representatives of the people. But it is this same people who are saying 83 per cent of them wish to have another committee working with us in a complementary way. So, I find it difficult for some of our colleagues to believe that the same people who are electing you, who are requesting that they be given an opportunity, we are saying that their work is going to crush us.
Mr Speaker, some Members expressed the fear that they will be doing our work. How can they be doing our work? Our work is defined by the Constitution, unless we have changed the Constitution for some other body to do our work.
An oversight committee, which at best is only advisory, cannot take the role - after all, they are not elected, so they cannot take the role of Parliament. If they had responded that 83 per cent of them wanted this institution, I think we should have been careful not to dismiss it. It is a very important provision that must be maintained and some of us feel strongly that if we are not careful and we dismiss this 83 per cent, come 2012, they will be telling us how they feel. So we should be very careful about it.
Mr Speaker, the other issue which my Chairman has alluded to is the issue about whether or not to cede a certain proportion of revenue to a