Ian Gary, Senior Policy Adviser on Extractive Industries, Oxfam, on Tuesday cautioned government that the challenges in the emerging oil industry in Ghana were broad, deep and complex and should not be underestimated.
He explained that the real challenge of government would be to ensure that the right institutions and transparent policies were in place before production started in next year.
Gary was speaking at a public forum organized by the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) and Oxfam, America, both non-governmental organizations, to discuss a report on the topic: "Ghana's Oil - Emerging Issues and Challenges.
" The forum brought together participants from the Western Region, especially from communities where the oil would be drilled, civil society organizations, the donor community and the media.
Gary said the oil sector, if not managed well could undermine gains made in Ghana's democratic governance and development.
"Ghana needs to be careful to control the pace of the development of the petroleum sector so as not to let commercial developments outstrip the capacity of the government and society as a whole to meet the myriad of challenges," he said.
Gary recommended that institutions, regulations and transparency measures should be in place early to avoid the corrosive and corrupting effects of oil booms seen elsewhere in Africa.
Stressing the need for transparency, he said the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation had made some disclosures to the public but pointed out that key details about the oil industry still remained secret including the oil contracts as well as the development plan for the Jubilee Field.
"The government of Ghana should ensure that payments from companies to the government as well as contracts are in the public domain.
" He urged government to place a moratorium on new exploration licenses to allow Ghana's legal and regulatory framework and institutional development process to catch up.
He advised companies to volunteer and disclose their payments and contracts.
Mr Gary, however, said Ghana was well-placed to handle the oil industry since the government had the opportunity to learn from the gold sector.
Mr Kyei Kwadwo Yamoah, an opinion leader from Jomoro, Ellembelle and other surrounding towns near the area where oil will be drilled, expressed concern about the lack of information to people in the community.
He said government and other stakeholders in the oil industry should engage people in those communities to help them express their concerns and expectations.
Mr Yamoah also called for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the place to help know if there was any risk and to adequately protect themselves.
Another worrying issue, he said, was the Filthy Production Storage Off-loading (FPSO) where oil extracted from the place is loaded onto a vessel and taken abroad.
He said government should endeavour to build an oil processing plant in the area to help create jobs for, especially the youth in the area who are unemployed.
"We wish to appeal to the government to make human rights the deciding factor in the oil exploration process," he added.
Participants during a question and answer session, expressed concern about investors and some donor communities as well as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank, seemed only interested in the profit or gains they made from their investment and not for the development of the country.
The organisers announced that a representative of the European Union walked out of the forum in an angry manner saying "This is not how to dialogue".