OGP Countries Commit to Resource Transparency

Participants at the Asia Pacific panel (DL Photo/CGU)

At last week's meeting of the Open Government Partnership in Brasilia, a majority of 55 participating governments announced National Action Plans, detailing their commitments to improving transparency and citizen participation.

Better transparency and better governance of oil, gas and mining were prominent themes in the country plans, and in the two days of discussion among more than 1,000 delegates from civil society, government and the private sector.

In her remarks at the conference opening on 17 April, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the rewards open societies reap in security, prosperity and adaptability. She focused on the importance of openness in the natural resource sector, highlighting the work of a number of OGP countries.

"These initiatives are designed to reduce corruption because we know corruption kills a country's potential. It drains resources. It protects dishonest leaders. It takes away people's drive to improve themselves or their communities," said Clinton. "The cure for corruption is openness. … And we're going to hold ourselves accountable."

A number of country action plans featured concrete steps on natural resource governance.

Both Colombia and Ukraine announced they would implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), joining ranks with 11 other OGP countries, including the United States, Indonesia and others.

For Ukraine, a major gas transit hub and growing producer of shale oil and gas, EITI has the potential to rebuild public confidence in government accountability, give citizens a voice in resource management issues and demystify transit revenues from Russian gas transported through Ukrainian territory.

In Colombia, where lucrative mineral exports have failed to reduce poverty in producing regions, the increased oversight EITI provides for is particularly important. Colombia is also the first significant Latin American oil producer to join EITI; notably Mexico, an OGP participant, has not yet officially expressed interest.

Peru, a mining giant, used its OGP action plan to boost its already progressive leadership on revenue transparency, committing to discuss an extractive industries transparency law and to consider "expanding the scope of its EITI reconciliation reports to build an environment of trust among oil, gas and mining industry stakeholders."

Bulgaria's action plan includes a list of reforms aimed at "more effective management of natural resources" and increasing mining sector transparency. Specifically, and ambitiously, it calls for a new national mining strategy and subsoil mineral law, transparent and competitive processes for mining tenders, and a new public information system to disseminate information on mining concessions and assets.

And finally, Kenya, which discovered major oil reserves this March, has committed to publishing more information on land ownership, as well as complementary data on "natural resource components."

Several countries missed opportunities to move toward greater resource transparency. Tanzania's plan failed to include any explicit reference to natural resource governance, despite its recent natural gas finds and prominent mining sector. A commitment from Tanzania to publish mining contracts and regular information on its licensing process would be a significant reform.

Other resource-rich countries, such as Azerbaijan, Ghana, Liberia and Mongolia, failed to release their action plans in time for the Brasilia meeting. As these countries develop their commitments, Revenue Watch urges them to address key transparency gaps.  In Azerbaijan, a commitement to timely, reliable and comprehensive information about special oil and gas funds would advance transaprency. In Ghana, citizens would benefit from regular publication of comprehensible revenue information on the government's website. Publishing environment and social impact reports or the natural resources fund's transactions in Liberia would be an important reform.

Dorjdari Namkhaijantsan of the Open Society Foundation, Mongolia, stressed that civil society groups are eager to engage in the OGP process and have already proposed crucial reforms, such as increased transparency for revenue management funds and state-owned enterprises.

As the action plans of these countries are developed, civil society will continue to advocate for these important transparency gains.

Two new resource-producing countries joined OGP during the meeting: Russia and Trinidad & Tobago.

Through their commitments, OGP countries have the opportunity to reap the economic and social benefits of resource wealth for both citizens and governments, and to help solidify a new global standard of natural resource transparency.

Rebecca Morse is RWI advocacy officer. Suneeta Kaimal is RWI deputy director.