U.S. sends mixed messages on transparency

S.E.C. in bed with the oil companies? Oxfam event in front of S.E.C., February 10, 2012. Photo: Oxfam America

S.E.C. in bed with the oil companies? Oxfam event in front of S.E.C., February 10, 2012. Photo: Oxfam America

The big news that came out of Obama’s recent trip to Africa was the announcement of his “Power Africa” initiative. The initiative has been praised and criticized, but I’ll just note the last few paragraphs of the White House Fact Sheet that discuss transparency — almost as an afterthought:

Transparent Natural Resource Management

The recent discoveries of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa will play a critical role in defining the region’s prospects for economic growth and stability, as well as contributing to broader near-term global energy security.  Yet existing infrastructure in the region is inadequate to ensure that both on- and off-shore resources provide on-shore benefits and can be accessed to meet the region’s electricity generation needs.

Although many countries have legal and regulatory structures in place governing the use of natural resources, these are often inadequate.  They fail to comply with international standards of good governance, or do not provide for the transparent and responsible financial management of these resources.

Power Africa will work in collaboration with partner countries to ensure the path forward on oil and gas development maximizes the benefits to the people of Africa, while also ensuring that development proceeds in a timely, financially sound, inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable manner.

Meanwhile over at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge John D. Bates decided to vacate key extractive industry transparency rules.

Global Financial Integrity writes:

The rules—which the SEC finalized last summer after two years of deliberation—implemented Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Also known as the “Cardin-Lugar provision,” this statute requires all oil, gas, and mining companies that report to the SEC to publicly disclose all of the payments they make to governments worldwide. The rules took effect in September of this year despite the lawsuit, with companies due to file their first reports in 2014.

Global Financial Integrity, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington DC, noted, however, that the ruling is based on two narrow, relatively technical grounds and did not overturn Section 1504 or comment on its validity. GFI is optimistic that the SEC may still implement strong transparency rules under the decision, and encourages the SEC to do so as quickly as possible to ensure that the U.S. continues to keep its place at the forefront of global momentum on this issue.

Read the entire statement from GFI here: GFI Disappointed by Court Decision to Vacate Key Extractives Transparency Rules

For more on why transparency matters, read Africa ‘ripped off big time’ by foreign resource firms, says bank chief  The Guardian ran a series of articles on transparency and tax avoidance leading up to the G8 summit in June. They’re online at the transparency page.



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