Is Petrol a Zero Sum Game in Ghana?

The reason why I find policy so intriguing is the way it forces us to become multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary (think across different subject matter) in order to understand even what looks like the simplest of things. But I also like how with a little more delving into, even the ‘simplest’ of stuff turn out to be not all that simple. In many ways, this explains why most politicians tend not to leave any discernible impacts on their sectors. Their temperament are much too unsubtle for the delicate task of policy formulation.

Let me illustrate. Is Ghana a net importer or net exporter of petroleum?

If you took the raw numbers from the Energy Commission, you will see 65000 barrels of imported fuel. The NPA will give you a long list of petroleum products measured in liters or metric tonnes and leave you to convert. That will give you roughly 75,000 barrels. It appears as if the Energy Commission figures are mostly for diesel and premium, but let’s leave this aside. Figures reported by the Petroleum Commission suggest exports of 100,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly.

Since the NPA is reporting for finished products, you need to convert the figures to their equivalent for crude oil to be able to compare with exports (since we export virtually all our oil in crude form). The problem is that it is not all that straightforward to convert a barrel of premium to crude oil, since a barrel of crude oil contain other products, some of which (like naphthalene) we consume very little in Ghana. But after the delicate work of balancing proportion against proportion, you come to a figure somewhat similar to the 100,000 barrels of petroleum we export.

At this stage, I am comfortable leaving the offset as a zero-sum. That is to say we export as much as we import (or ‘we are neutral’). But no sooner has one concluded on that position than the likes of Theo Acheampong will show up and insist that because we do not really own all the crude oil we export we should still peg the net balance at negative. But to accommodate that view would mean looking to confirm if all the fuel we import is paid for by Ghanaians (for example, some fuel is transhipped to our nothern neighbours, whilst some go to foreign airlines that use Ghana as a fueling hub etc.)

So, you see, it may not be all that simple. Now, the question is whether a Minister can be responsible for setting policy and yet be disinterested in the manner in which such policy is developed. After all, the role of the Civil Service is to implement and not to make policy. So, if political leaders are not expected to be policy enthusiasts, then who exactly should manage the intricasies of policy formulation? Maybe in that singular question is all that is frustrating about our politics.

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