In May 2016, I had the pleasure of being one of the business sector delegates who joined the Prime Minister on his official state visit to Ghana. It was my fifth visit to the country, though my first as part of an official Government delegation.
I first visited Ghana back in 2009, as part of trade mission comprising nine member companies of the Energy Chamber. That mission took place in the very early days of Ghana’s oil industry, when Tullow were just beginning the development of their Jubilee field. Back in 2009 there were very few international oilfield service companies in the country and we received a very warm welcome from both the Government of Ghana and the Ghana private-sector. While there were clearly many opportunities available in Ghana, unfortunately most of the member companies who took part were unable to capitalize on the opening and only one company managed to establish a permanent commercial presence in Ghana, though others did manage to get one-off projects in both Ghana and Nigeria, where we also visited.
Nevertheless, there was a lot of highlevel government-to-government contact between Trinidad and Tobago and Ghana. Most significantly, the National Gas Company (NGC) began work on a major potential investment into a gas processing facility for the gas that would be brought onshore from the Jubilee field. The 2010 Trinidad Energy Conference featured keynote presentations from Ghana’s then Minister of Energy, Dr. Joe Oteng Adjei and an influential Paramount Chief from the Sekondi district, Nana Kobina Nketsia V.
In 2011, I visited Ghana as part of a trade mission charged with building on the opportunities that were expected from the NGC investment. Delays in decision making in Trinidad, mainly due to the change in government had created an opportunity for a rival Chinese investment. It turned out to be a very disappointing trade mission.
Despite the breakdown in the government-to-government relationship, the Energy Chamber had developed a strong rapport with Ghana’s Sekondi-Takoradi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We decided to build on that relationship in the hope that there would be prospects for our private sector companies. The Sekondi- Takoradi Chamber visited Trinidad and attended the Energy Conference. Over a week, I helped them to develop a strategic plan and better understand how to interact with the new hydro-carbon industry.
I encouraged them to find a way to help their small member companies improve their health and safety systems, a prerequisite for working with the oil and gas industry. They accepted the challenge and established a computer-based training facility, modelled on our Point Lisas Learning Centre. They also organised an Extractive Industries Safety Conference in 2015, which I attended and moderated at many of the sessions.
Despite the great relationship between our Chambers, we have not been able to generate much direct business activity. This may soon change due to two developments.
Firstly, there is the very significant Republic Bank investment into the Ghanaian HFC Bank. Though small, HFC has a growing list of customers in its commercial banking sector, including several in the energy services business. Such customers are often seeking technical assistance and potential foreign joint venture partners. With Republic Bank’s track record and ambition, growth should continue as the bank is well poised to link Ghanaian and Trinidad and Tobago service companies to maximise opportunities. My primary piece of advice for any local service company interested in the Ghanaian market is to maintain close ties with Republic Bank.
Further, the visit of the Prime Minister has put the government-to-government relationship back on a firm footing. NGC is again exploring strong potential investment opportunities in gas pipelines and gas processing. Hopefully, this time Trinidad and Tobago can make better progress and actually make an investment in Ghana.
A concerted move into the Ghanaian market requires a well-articulated national strategy. This would entail government leadership and close involvement of the private sector players. Should this happen, the Prime Minister’s trip to Ghana could prove to be the stimulus for a new direction for our economy. Without a strategy, the danger is that the engagement with Ghana will continue to sputter along, without any significant growth in business.