With the unexpected death of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills today, the country lost both a leader and champion of good governance for oil, gas and mineral wealth. Atta Mills, who was 68, had been suffering from throat cancer but was planning to seek a second term in December.
A member of Ghana’s National Democratic Congress party, he began promoting resource transparency and accountability when he served as vice president from 1997 to 2001. Atta Mills was elected as the third president of the Fourth Republic of Ghana in 2008, only a year after the West African country discovered massive oil reserves just offshore.
“One of the president’s most remarkable achievements was ensuring the start of country’s first commercial oil production in a record time of three years,” said Emmanuel Kuyole, RWI’s Africa Regional Coordinator based in Accra.
Ghana’s increased economic growth since the 2010 start of oil production is due in part to Atta Mills’s push for effective oil revenue management. “The previous government had begun the process but, at the time of the discovery, there were no regulations for how to manage the revenues,” said Kuyole. “Atta Mills made a significant contribution by pioneering Ghana’s petroleum law and committing to publication of government oil agreements. It is a major departure from how oil has been managed throughout Africa.”
As president, Atta Mills pushed to ensure clarity and transparency in every part of the oil management process. One of his most notable achievements was the creation of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee. Created as part of the petroleum law, this oversight committee operates as an independent citizen body that monitors and enforces government compliance with oil regulations and reports its findings to the presidency, parliament and the public.
Atta Mills heralded the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and worked to ensure that Ghana achieved compliant status. He also approved an expansion o the process to include fishing and forestry and helped to draft an EITI bill, which parliament has yet to approve.
Vice President John Mahama was sworn in hours after the announcement of the president’s death, as people throughout the country and around the world expressed their condolences.
“The most important contribution Atta Mills will leave behind is this robust and transparency management regime,” Kuyole said.