Transparency campaigners celebrate a long-awaited result

by Marinke van Riet | Publish What You Pay
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 11:16 GMT

A man digs a hole in search of gold in Napotpot, South Sudan, October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Adriane Ohanesian

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Extractive transparency campaigners celebrate as the European Parliament signs off on a law to force companies to publish what they pay

When we asked our members why they campaign for transparency in the extractive sector, almost all of them said, ‘Because I want to know why so many citizens in my country are poor, while we are so rich in natural resources’.

For over ten years, they have been fearlessly campaigning to resolve this paradox. Today, the European Parliament has passed an historic law which will support them in their quest for natural resources to benefit all citizens rather than the few.

The amendments to the EU Transparency Directive oblige all EU listed (and large non-listed) extractive companies to publish their payments on a country and project level. The information this directive will yield represents nothing short of an avalanche of data.

So what does this mean in practice? It means that activists will have the necessary information to ensure companies are paying the right amount for their natural resources, that these revenues are reaching the state coffers and that they are being spent responsibly.

It means that investors will be able to better assess risk and that local government representatives will be able to ensure their local community receives the compensatory extractive revenues that they are due.

What it means, ultimately, is that women, youth and men will be far better equipped to ensure that their governments manage their natural resources in a way that turns natural resources into a blessing rather than a curse.

Opacity in the extractive sector has enabled corruption to thrive in resource rich countries, leading the mismanagement and loss of millions in revenues; revenues which could instead have been used to transform the lives of millions.

Because the numbers we are talking about here are truly staggering. In 2009, extractive exports from Africa were worth nine times the amount of money coming in from aid.

The new levels of transparency this directive brings about will help curb corruption and empower activists all over the world to hold their governments to account for the management of their natural resources.

Already, campaigners around the world have achieved so much in their battle for transparency. The fact that extractive revenues are being revealed and debated, in countries where the idea of openness in  natural resources was anathema a decade ago, marks amazing change. Change which brought about by tireless campaigning from activists in resource rich countries who were not afraid to risk their lives to achieve their goals.

In East Timor, the concerted effort towards transparency has resulted in the government launching the Transparency Portal, which purports to pool all information – from the budget and public spending, use of foreign aid to public procurement projects – in one place.

In Mali, field research from members of the coalition revealed that the Sadiola mining community was losing out on €600,000 a year.

PWYP members campaigned and coordinated to reach ground-breaking legislation in the EU and the US, despite the machinations of oil companies to defeat the campaign.

Imagine what activists will be able to achieve now that this legislation has passed, and that payments covering 65% of extractive companies around the world are to be revealed?

Some of these companies operate in countries which do not implement EITI, and have indeed shown very little intention of ever doing so. Here, this directive will reveal payments for some of the most opaque countries in the world, such as Angola.

For EITI implementing countries, this legislation will strengthen the initiative, which has recently enhanced its standard so that implementing countries produce reports with project level payments. EITI and the EU legislation are thus complementary and mutually reinforcing.  

Although this directive represents a milestone victory for the coalition, and the realisation of one of the goals for which we are founded, our work is far from over.

The frontier for mandatory disclosure reporting rules has not yet reached its limit, as we now turn to Canada and Australia to see if they will follow suit with similar legislation. We now also face the task of using the information that will come out of the directives, something for which the coalitions have been preparing for.

These directives have been the result of many years of work by PWYP’s members. They show that, when we work together, we can realise truly remarkable goals. For it wasn’t only civil society who campaigned for these – it was a concerted effort from civil society, governments and investors.

Ten years ago it might have been hard to imagine there would be a vote like today’s, such were the obstacles that were faced. Yet, as Victor Hugo once said, ‘all the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come’.