RWI Parliamentary Conference Emphasizes Partnership

It's not every day that citizens have the chance to sit down with their lawmakers. But last week in Ghana, delegates from civil society spoke candidly with African lawmakers about the management of natural resources.

On 1-2 November, nearly 70 representatives of parliament and civil society gathered at Accra's La Palm Royal Beach Hotel to take part in Revenue Watch's international forum on parliament's role in the governance of oil, gas and minerals. Hailing from as near as Sierra Leone and as far as Kazakhstan, participants came with a common objective: to turn their countries' resource wealth into sustainable social and economic development.

Though participants know this is no easy task, they realize that joining forces is the smartest way to bring this difficult goal within reach. Civil society maintains a direct connection with the people, while parliaments play a central role in the management of public resources, whether by publishing government contracts or by creating laws that levy taxes on oil and mineral companies.

"This kind of constructive partnership does miracles," said Henry Banyenzaki, a former parliamentarian in Uganda and now the Minister of State for Economic Monitoring. "Together, we can engage the executive much better. We can make getting a good deal a national issue."

Unfortunately, in many of the countries represented, parliaments lack the knowledge or capacity to address the complexities of the extractive industry. Citizen groups with longstanding industry expertise, such as event participants Policy Forum of Tanzania and AFIEGO of Uganda, can help to educate legislators about best practices and fight corruption by monitoring company and government activities. Without the support of civil society, parliaments cannot do their job properly and their role in resource governance can become compromised or marginalized.

In Tanzania, parliament called upon Semkae Kilonzo and his associates at Policy Forum to help amend a mining law that would enhance contributions from the country's mining sector. That call, however, came only three days before parliament was scheduled to make its decision. Policy Forum needed to not only review the relevant information but also make the six-hour trek from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, where Tanzania's legislature is based. Fortunately, Kilonzo and his colleagues were already armed with knowledge from their own research (and from past Revenue Watch workshops). They made it to Dodoma in time, offered their advice, and many of their recommendations were incorporated into the new, better mining bill.

Not all parliaments are receptive to collaboration with citizen groups. Cecilia Mattia of NACE in Sierra Leone expressed her frustrations in one of the seminar's breakout sessions. "Building a relationship with parliament requires just as much persistence as it does capacity in my country," said Mattia. To secure allies in Sierra Leone's parliament, she staked out their offices, showing up day after day to try to get a meeting. Her efforts paid off: Mattia eventually helped to secure a memorandum of understanding between parliament and civil society. Her work didn't end there; she now confronts other hurdles, such as a legislature of conflicting political parties and the need for greater support from the executive.

Civil society groups seeking reform have a long, arduous path ahead. Creating partnerships with parliamentarians, advocating for transparency and making governments accountable is a struggle, especially in countries that have long operated in secrecy and wrestled with political corruption. Throughout the conference, panel discussions grew into enthusiastic, at times even heated, debates, yet it was clear both parties understood the importance of an open, constructive alliance between parliament and its constituents.

Much work remains for both groups, but getting the conversation started was a big step toward empowering nations that have yet to profit from their own resource riches.

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