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In Brief

Photo by Piero Fissore available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  • The EITI International Board met last week in Myanmar – they granted Indonesia and Chad EITI compliant status and accepted Colombia and the UK as candidate countries. Several CSO groups and PWYP members issued press releases to raise attention to concerns around CSO space and delays in EITI implementation – see press releases from PWYP members in Australia , PWYP Congo-B  (in French) and civil society members in Myanmar.
  • The tenth PWYP Eurasia meeting took place in Turkey in September, you can read the communiqué here.

PWYP statement of support for Azerbaijan’s civil society

The issue of Azerbaijan was high on the agenda of last week’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) International Board meeting in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, as the government’s repressions place the country’s EITI status in doubt.  The civil society constituency on the EITI board was united in calling for Azerbaijan’s suspension from the initiative, as the country no longer abides by one of EITI’s key principles to ensure a free and effective participation by civil society.  This was assessed during a recent fact-finding mission.

Publish What You Pay was disappointed that the International Board did not suspend Azerbaijan, as it should have done according to the initiative’s rules. However, we are reassured by the unanimity on the board that serious and immediate steps must be taken by Azerbaijan’s government by January to allow for civil society to participate. If such steps are not taken, we fully expect Azerbaijan to be immediately delisted from the initiative at the next EITI board meeting. The EITI will only remain a credible initiative if it holds its members to its principles - otherwise, it risks becoming a PR sticker with little substance.

For the past year, Publish What You Pay has been closely following the situation for civil society in Azerbaijan and confirms that severe restrictions have been placed on civil society activity and that freedom of speech and the right to assembly are being denied. The government is also making it near-impossible for civil society to access foreign funding or fulfil its basic functions with regards to the EITI. This rapidly deteriorating environment for civil society was echoed by the latest report on the freedom of assembly and association of the UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai. 

Publish What You Pay once again urges the Government of Azerbaijan to take action, lift restrictions and ensure that civil society has the space to operate freely and effectively, not only as a part of the EITI process but also in its role in functioning democracies as a body to hold governments to account. After all, the President of Azerbaijan has stated on a number of occasions he considers Azerbaijan a democratic and independent state. The international organizations continue to observe Azerbaijan in order to see the real democratic and independent civil society.

“With all the challenges that civil society faces at the moment, and is yet to face in the near future, Publish What You Pay will continue to support civil society in Azerbaijan, especially the PWYP affiliated coalition that suffers from governmental persecution, has been cut off from funding and is unable to realise its work on transparency in extractives”, said Marinke Van Riet, PWYP International Director.

The UK joins EITI – a second chance to get it right?

You can also read this blog on our website

Last week, the UK was accepted as a candidate country to EITI – in 18 months, British citizens should have a report that details how much money the government received from the extractive sector and how much companies paid. It’s a shame that the EITI wasn’t born in the 1970s before the oil revenues started flooding in, but maybe it’s a case of better late than never.

While Britain’s oil may be declining (although no one has quite agreed on just how much oil is left), the nation has important shale gas and mining reserves. North Yorkshire could soon be home to Europe’s largest Potash mine, while some estimates have even given the shale gas discoveries a value of £1 trillion pounds  – not an insignificant amount for a country still recovering from the throes of a financial crisis. 

It is important that engagement in the EITI contribute to a national debate about our resources. Shale gas may be worth plenty but it should still be extracted in a responsible way that analyses the true costs and benefit – unlike what some MPs might think, the North-East isn’t “uninhabited and desolate” so we can’t just go frack there willy-nilly (and the North East isn't where most of the shale gas is, but facts shouldn’t get in the way of a political speech). Osborne proposed cutting taxes for shale gas companies from 62% to 30%, giving Britain the most generous Shale gas tax regime in the world. The government is also pushing to relax laws so that energy firms do not have to obtain permission from landowners before fracking under their land. While it is important to attract investors, that shouldn’t come at the cost of getting the best deal for a resource nor at the cost of the environment.  Joining EITI isn’t just about publishing payments and receipts; it’s about creating a process that involves civil society in natural resource management. If the UK is to make shale gas part of its strategy for the future, it should include its citizens in the debate and proceed in a way that looks at long term impact rather than short term gain.

We often talk about how southern countries should manage their resources and spend their money to lift their citizens out of poverty, but the UK hasn’t walked the talk. A report from 2008 estimated that if the UK had put even half of its oil money in a sovereign wealth fund, it would have amassed £450 billion.  Oil revenues didn’t go into schools  – according to this article public sector net investment actually decreased while public sector current spending remained at the 40% mark until a few years ago. Instead, successive governments spend the windfall on reducing non-oil taxes. This included reducing taxes for the richest; during Thatcher’s Prime Ministership, the top income tax rate was slashed from 83% (1979) to 40% by 1988.   Fast-forward to today and, at a time when the UK needs it most, the nation has little to show for the oil-wealth it once had. 

While it would be inaccurate to say that the UK’s newly-discovered natural resources are a cornucopia that can pull the country of its crisis, we have a duty to invest wisely and spend the revenues in a way that benefits future generations as well as citizens struggling today. The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the last three decades, the demand for food banks grows and across the country, walk-in clinics and A & E centres are being shut in the biggest threat the NHS has yet faced. Can we ensure that future generations avoid such a crisis?

We can’t go back in time and reinvest the North Sea Oil, but with shale gas and EITI, there’s a second chance to get it right.

Photo of North Sea oil rigs, by Berardo62 and available under a Creative Commons License

Lessons learned from Zimbabwe’s Alternative Mining Indaba

Zebbies Mumba, Gerald Mutale and Tommy Singongi, three representatives of PWYP Zambia attended Zimbabwe’s Alternative Mining Indaba which PWYP Zimbabwe helped organise. Here are some of the key lessons the Zimbabwean delegation took back with them:

Talking matters – The Alternative Indaba was a key opportunity for community members’ to voice their opinions to parliamentarians, academics, chiefs and members of civil society. PWYP Zambia noted that one of the reasons this truly flowed was that each member was free to speak in their preferred language, rather than have to fit their experiences to a language they were less familiar with.

Balanced representation – As community members spoke about their experiences with extractive projects, women’s testimonies revealed a distinct experience separate to what men were living through – and it emerged also that the impact of extraction was heavier on women than on men. PWYP Zambia decided that in the future they wanted even more balance when they invited community representatives to speak at their events, to make sure that women were there and could tell share their stories and experiences.

Relocation for communities –Some of the challenges faced for communities forced to relocate to make way for mining are similar in Zimbabwe and Zambia. In many cases, the new houses provided are too small to accommodate the families and ignore cultural practices. In some cases where polygamy was practiced, families were only given one house instead of the two or three homes that they had previously. The relocation also rarely took into account the loss by the community of non-housing elements, such as an uprooting of social bonds. PWYP Zambia is committed to ensuring that community and cultural rights are respected when relocation due to extraction takes place.

Participation of parliamentarians – PWYP Zambia was impressed by the participation of parliamentarians for the full two days of the mining indaba, stating that they find it difficult to secure the participation of their representatives. They will be looking for how to better involve parliamentarians in their work, so that these can get a first-hand account by community members on the effects of extraction.

With thanks to Zebbies Mumba, whose report provided the basis for this piece!

Photo of a mine in Zimbabwe taken by Kevin Walsh, available on Flickr under a Creative Commons License