It is not often that the deliberations of the European Parliament in Strasbourg attract global attention and interest, but today’s vote on new reporting requirements for the extractives industry has been eagerly awaited in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and by many others around the world.
About the author: Father Alfred Buju is head of the Justice and Peace Commission in Bunia, Ituri, The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For us, it is not just a vital breakthrough in our struggle to escape poverty, but an important milestone in our 17-year search for a lasting peace. For where you in the financial centres of Europe see the oil, gas and mining industries in terms of investments, shareholders and wealth creation, all too often we in the DRC are forced to witness the impact of their activities on human lives.
If mining companies are able to buy resource-rich land for less than it is worth because of side payments to regional officials, then they are depriving our schools, hospitals and other infrastructure of vital investment, and often depriving poor local communities of their traditional lands as well. If businesses make payments to local militia forces in order to ensure that their mining activities and transport logistics are not disrupted by conflict, then they are putting money into the hands of those who are perpetuating violence, and giving them a financial motive to continue doing so.
These are not abstract concerns. On the contrary, the Africa Progress Panel’s report on “Equity in Extractives”, launched last month, found that the DRC lost out on at least $1.36bn of income between 2010 and 2012 in just five mining deals as a result of the alleged underpricing of state assets sold to offshore companies. The panel recommended action at international level to establish common rules on transparency “with no exceptions.”
Today’s vote in Strasbourg takes us a vital step down that road, and therefore a vital step towards improving the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. There are a number of key elements in this Directive which will make that difference.
The reforms will mean that oil, gas, mining and forestry companies based in the EU or listed on EU stock exchanges will have to report on the payments that they make to governments both on a country-by-country level but also broken down by each project. That element is crucial so that the local communities who see at first hand the impacts of a particular extractive project on their land and livelihoods will in future also be able to see who is reaping the financial rewards, and whether the payments match the environmental and social costs. For that reason, it was vital that the reporting threshold remained at €100,000, rather than €1 million as many extractive companies proposed.
This brings the EU into line with similar extractive industry transparency rules that take effect this year in the US under the Dodd-Frank Act. As a result of these new laws, approximately 65 per cent of the global extractives market will now be covered by payment disclosure requirements.
EU Member States will have 2 years after today’s vote to introduce the changes in their domestic law, but – led by the UK and France – there is hope that implementation can be quicker than that. Indeed, I would applaud the role that successive UK governments have played in recognising the need for European level legislation and supporting a robust model of mandatory reporting without exemptions and loopholes. It is a real achievement.
I would also applaud those in civil society – including our partners at the development agency CAFOD – who have worked hard with the Publish What You Pay movement to campaign globally for this change. When it began in 2002, its proposals were seen as radical. Now the themes of transparency and accountability – that citizens should have access to information about natural resource deals – are about to be enshrined in European Law, and at the heart of the UK’s agenda for the G8, offering the chance to build further on the progress that has been made today to achieve a truly global transparency standard.
In countries like the DRC, citizens and communities simply want to know how much their governments are being paid for their countries’ natural resources, and who is receiving those payments. They want to know if they are getting a fair deal. These new rules now mean we have the right to know.