Fiona Hall MEP writes … Paying the world’s poorest people for their precious resources

The battle to ensure that companies publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources has finally reached the home straight.

The EU Accounting and Transparency Directives are in the ‘trialogue’ stage, a negotiation between the EU Parliament, Commission and Council to decide upon the final form that the legislation will take.  Liberal Democrats have been involved in this process from the beginning  - I wrote the report for the European
Parliament’s Development Committee  and am now joined by Jo Swinson, as she continues to maintain the UK Government’s strong leadership stance in ensuring that the final legislation includes the necessary measures to combat corruption.

About 3.5 billion people live in countries rich in oil, gas and minerals, the revenue from which is one of the greatest sources of wealth generated within developing countries. But paradoxically, this wealth often provides little benefit to the people living in these countries, especially the poor. Take Sierra Leone, home to large deposits of diamonds, gold and other precious minerals but  where  63% of the population continue to live in extreme poverty. The system is clearly broken when millions of people are still  desperately poor, despite exports of oil and minerals from the African continent being estimated at $333 billion, nearly seven times the value of international aid.

Currently, the US is leading the way with strong and meaningful legislation in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act which was passed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission over the summer. In September, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee voted in favour of equally strong measures to be included in the Accounting and Transparency Directives. No exemptions. Payments according to projects and these projects defined by legal agreements. And a meaningful payment threshold of €80,000. A payments threshold that is any higher risks hiding the relevant information and making the legislation of limited use in fighting corruption and ensuring resources are used for their intended purposes. As the Christian relief and development agency Tearfund has estimated, if only payments above $1 million (as some companies have been asking for) had been included in Sierra Leone’s recent Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report,over $4 million or 40% of revenues would have disappeared from the document altogether.

The crucial debate in the Council at the moment is how exactly to define what a mining project is. The US rules clearly rejected that it could be based on a geographical area, internal reporting unit or country, and acknowledge that it is commonly understood as  relating to a contract. This needs to be the EU position – that the default position is reporting by lease, licence or other contract as determined in the legal agreement between company and government – so that everyone knows what we are talking about and payments can be linked to specific projects.

Sunday was UN International Anti-Corruption Day and a reminder that now, more than ever, robust legislation is required to ensure that the world’s poorest people receive the payment they deserve for their precious resources. As Liberal Democrats, we can be proud that we have stood up for the rights of those people and will continue to show leadership in the international arena as the negotiating process continues.

 

* Fiona Hall is Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Delegation in the European Parliament and MEP for the North East of England.

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