2016 is an historic year for transparency advocates and data geeks alike.
After fourteen years of campaigning by the global Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition, laws requiring oil, gas and mining companies to publicly disclose project-level payments to governments for access to natural resources are now in force in over 30 countries. This means we will know how much each covered company paid in royalties, taxes, fees, and other vital information for every project in every country of operation.
Too often, natural resource wealth has served to enrich corrupt corporate execsandpolitical elites, while the owners of those natural resources – citizens – have been left footing the bill for environmental destruction, community displacements, and lost economic opportunities. These reports present a treasure trove of information for advocacy groups, data scientists, journalists and citizens. Now, they can dig deep into oil, gas and mining data that was previously shrouded in secrecy.
In fact, some of the world’s largest extractive companies either listed or incorporated in the European Union, like Shell (UK), BP (UK), Total (France), Statoil (Norway) and Rio Tinto (UK), have already published their first reports. We can expect reporting from Canadian listed/incorporated companies in 2017; with the bulk of US-listed company reports disclosed in 2019.
Transparency advocates are beginning the hard work of sifting through this newly released data, and have already begun asking important questions like:
- What are extractive companies paying ( or not paying) in taxes?
- How do these reports match up to the disclosures made in the voluntaryExtractive Industries Transparency Initiative reports?
- How can payment data help citizens begin to determine if they are getting a good deal on their natural resources?
Leading organizations have also formed new initiatives to provide activists with the opportunity to more easily engage with this data, and to train a new generation of data savvy transparency advocates and citizens.
At Publish What You Pay – United States (PWYP-US), we launched a website in June –Extract-A-Fact – with the intention of empowering citizens, activists and journalists to harness oil, gas, and mining data and use it as a tool to demand accountability from governments and extractive companies. Extract-A-Fact does this by providing training modules detailing useful and creative ways to find, analyze, and visualize extractives data, as well as blog posts from PWYP-US and our partners as we dig deeper into oil, gas, and mining sector data to answer questions critical to communities impacted by natural resources.
Over the past year, other important initiatives and tools have sprung up across the globe:
- In 2015, Publish What You Pay International launched the innovativeData Extractors Program, which brought together activists from France, Indonesia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Niger, The Philippines, UK, US, Zambia and Zimbabwe to train them in how to use oil, gas and mining data through peer learning, mentoring, workshops, and case study development and analysis. (Full disclosure, the author is a proud participant in the Data Extractors program).
- Open Oil recently launched its Aleph Search Engine; an innovative tool that allows users to search extractive companies’ public financial disclosure documents submitted to regulators around the world. These filings are updated daily and users can set up alerts to have documents delivered directly to their inboxes.
- The Natural Resource Governance Institute developed ResourceProjects.org – a data portal that collects payment data on oil, gas and mining projects and links it with associated data on project location, contracts, licenses and other key bits of information.
These new initiatives are already empowering activists to demand accountability for how their country’s natural resources are managed. But civil society groups are not the only actors who recognize the importance of these disclosures. Recently, the law firm Holland & Knight (citing research done by a PWYP Data Extractor) wrote that payment transparency could lead to increased voluntary Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) disclosures, aid law-enforcement officials in investigating possible FCPA violations, and have a deterrent effect on corruption.
This new era in extractives transparency is why I am so excited for IODC 2016 . If youbelieve that a country’s natural resources belong to the citizens who live there, and that profits made from those resources should be used to benefit those people, rather than swell the pockets of corrupt government officials and shady executives – let’s talk. I want to work with you to brainstorm ways we can fight corruption by translating this data into accountability.