Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), the state agency responsible for the exploration, licensing, and distribution of petroleum-related activities in the country, has vehemently denied claims of conflict of interest leveled against him by Policy think tank, IMANI Africa, in a US$4.4 billion petroleum agreement between Ghana and Aker Energy Ghana Limited.
In an exclusive interview with The Herald yesterday, Dr. K. K. Sarpong, described as “a pack of lies” claims by IMANI Africa’s Vice-President, Kofi Bentil, that he and his family owned a company called Fueltrade Ghana Limited, one of the local partners in the Deepwater Tano /Cape Three Points (DWT/CTP) Petroleum Agreement, with a two per cent stake.
The GNPC boss, asked IMANI Africa to crosscheck its facts right, before stepping out to speak and dent reputations in the process. He revealed that he is speaking to his lawyers to take action against the Policy think tank, to have his reputation repaired.
Dr. Sarpong, equally directed The Herald to check from the Registrar General’s Department, if indeed, he and his family, own Fueltrade Ghana Limited, adding the Policy think tank, could have better served the public interest by doing some due diligence, before coming out to speak about the US$4.4 billion petroleum transaction.
Aker Energy, is the operator of the field with over 50 per cent stake. It recently submitted a US$4.4 billion plan of development to the government for approval and allow for development and production activities to start.
With Dr. Sarpong being the CEO of GNPC, another partner of the DWT/CTP with a 10 per cent stake, Mr Bentil at a press conference held in Accra yesterday, said it was ethically wrong for a company he and his family own, to also be a partner of the field.
“It does not look right. We put it out here publicly because we want clarification. “We are not against Ghanaian participation in our oil industry but protecting the public purse includes avoiding such conflicts,” he said at the press conference.
“It is a zero sum game; what Ghana has, Aker does not have. So, if it is true that the company is negotiating with itself or there are powers on both sides, I think it is a matter of concern and we need some answers concerning that one,” he added.
But Dr. Sarpong, insisted he is not in any business venture with the owner of Fueltrade, however, his faintest link to Fueltrade Limited is that, one of his sons who is 44-years of age, works with the company.
He added that, he personally has no knowledge, about his (son’s) working relationship with the owners of Fueltrade; Chris Chinebuah and Dzifa French Cudjoe.
According to him, his son is an adult and a family man, who is liable for his actions and inactions, and as his father, he does not interfere in his son’s choices.
He, therefore, cannot tell whether his son owns 2percent stake in Fueltrade, adding the managements of the company, must respond to that publicly.
The GNPC boss, disclosed that, he only got to know the owners of Fueltrade Ghana Limited, when he served as the Managing Director of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) during the Kufuor administration, but whatever transaction that existed between them was at the behest of TOR, adding that arrangement ended, when he left TOR with the advent of the John Atta-Mills government in 2009.
At GNPC, he told The Herald that, he noted some arrangements on the petroleum agreement involving Ghana date as far back 2008,and have been ongoing before he became the head of the state agency. He insisted that, he was too careful about his reputation to be embroiled in conflict of interest scandals.
The Herald, yesterday made contact with Chris Chinebuah, who serves as Fueltrade Limited’s Executive Chairman and CEO, but he promised to speak to the paper later today.
IMANI, said it was concerned that Aker Energy, may be disregarding Ghana’s laws, because it is politically connected. In this regard, Mr Bentil, accused the government of treating AKER with kid gloves, alleging that the company has “been calling the shots” in most of the key decisions since buying out Hess Petroleum in 2017.
He called on the government to be firm in dealing with Aker Energy, noting that most of the decisions that should have been taken by Parliament, have been unilaterally taken by Aker Energy in a manner that raises eyebrows.
Aker Energy is 50 per cent owned by Aker of Norway, leaving the other 50 per cent for Norwegian billionaire ,Kjell Inge Roekk, through his private firm.
According to him, the oil find is actually US$30 billion and unless the government acts quickly to protect the interest of the state, Ghana may lose to the Norwegian company; Aker Energy.
The estimated 450 million to 550 million barrels of oil – found in two wells – was discovered in February and March 2019.
Early in the year, the company announced the discovery of oil in the Pecan South-1A well in the Deepwater Tano Cape Three Points (DWT/CTP) block offshore Ghana; touted as the biggest oil find in Africa.
Kofi Bentil, argued forcefully that the find is being claimed by Aker Energy, without a legal basis.
Aker Energy acquired the 51percent stake in an earlier well in the area found by another Norwegian company, Hess Oil.
Hess Oil, operated under a Petroleum Agreement with the government of Ghana signed in 2006, which granted the company seven years within which to undertake oil exploration in a given area, the Contract Area.
This Exploration Period ended in 2013, and Kofi Bentil, argues by the laws governing oil exploration and production in Ghana, any oil find made outside of the exploration period cannot be claimed by the company that found it – it belongs to the state.
In fact, he said, Aker Energy, having inherited the well from Hess oil at a time the exploration period had ended, was not permitted by law to continue any exploratory activities.They were only required to do appraisal work on the Pecan find made by its predecessor company – Hess Oil.
Why were they permitted to engage in exploration in flagrant violation of the laws? Kofi Bentil wondered.Assuming that Aker Energy accidentally stumbled on a new well in the course of the appraisal, it was legally obligated to announce this to the government for a negotiation on who controls what stake but Kofi Bentil said that has not happened in this case.
Instead, he said, the company has claimed the new wells as though they formed part of the stake acquired from Hess Oil emphasizing that the new wells could not be said to be part of the original well because an assessment showed that there is no dynamic communication between the new wells and the existing one.
Kofi Bentil read copiously, documents suggesting that Aker Energy has submitted to the government its Plan Development in respect of the new wells stating that by law, the Minister of Energy is expected to assess that Plan of Development (PoD) and either disagree or endorse it.
Where the minister fails to respond in 30 days, the proposals submitted by the company are deemed as accepted.
The IMANI Vice-President said if the Energy Minister John Peter Amewu fails to respond – the Petroleum Commission has advised him to – the $30 billion oil find would become the sole property of Aker Energy.
He does not understand why the ministry appears to be lax while the country stands on the cusp of losing a resource that rightfully belongs to the people of Ghana.The two new oil wells are not the only resources Aker Energy is claiming ownership of.
According to Mr Bentil, in clear violation of the laws, the company has refused to relinquish the rest of the contract area back to the state.In fact, the company has claimed the 30% relinquished by Hess before its stake was acquired by Aker Energy.The company has actually indicated it will continue to explore for oil in the Deepwater Cape Three Point/Tano South area.
This is in spite of the fact that there is no petroleum agreement permitting it to continue conducting any exploration.
Kofi Bentil insists that having made a find and having conducted appraisal of the wells, the remaining parts of the Pecan field should have been relinquished.
While maintaining that IMANI is not interested in making allegations and accusing people of wrongdoing, he insisted the government must protect the national interest by claiming its share of the newly discovered oil wells.
He is surprised that government did not pay the $140 million it was required to pay to retain a stake in the Pecan well.
“Ghana needs the money,” he said, “God knows we need it so government must act quickly and claim it.”