Dear Prime Minister David Cameron
Corruption is cooperative.
If a government official receives a sketchy wad of cash, there has to be someone handing him the briefcase, right? Apparently not, if you're asking the extractive industries. They defend under-the-table transactions as being necessary to "protecting the sovereignty of their producer country." Well Shell… I'm not buying it.
And perhaps nobody will: if oil-companies continue to fight against legal efforts to increase transparency in the extractive sector through the Cardin-Lugar amendment, calls for a public boycott in the US could be on the horizon. In Europe, the movement has been catalyzed by 200 Ugandans mailing a petition to number 10 Downing Street.
The Ugandans are concerned that a recent discovery of oil in their country will circulate a plague often referred to as 'the resource curse'. Tullow Oil is the major extractive company operating in Uganda, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The discovery appears as a blessing (for a country with a GDP per capita of $US 1,300) and certainly has the potential to be one. Uganda is estimated to produce up to 250,000 barrels per day in coming years, and the Ugandans are excited about this forecast. However, they are also conscious of the destructive potential this kind of discovery is likely to produce without the international legal protections towards transparency.
The letter to 10 Downing Street read: 'The revenue generated by the oil has the potential to transform our economy and push the country towards middle-income status. The fight against poverty and disease could be intensified and social services for all Ugandans improved. However, world experience tells us that oil can be a curse as well as a blessing. Many African countries rich in natural resources have been plagued by instability, corruption and huge inequality.'
They cite the DRC as an example of a country that should be one of the world's wealthiest, now an example of a 'failed state'. Andnot forgetting Nigeria, which has enriched the pockets of a select few, denying the rest of its population access to their rightful, shared resources. This is not the path Ugandans want to take, nor is it a path that should be so easily walked by other developing nations.
The letter comes at a time when the European Commission is debating the introduction of legislation to amend the EU's Transparency and Accounting Directives. If approved, this legislation will require all European Union listed (or large unlisted) oil, gas, mining and logging companies to disclose their payments to governments, with Germany taking the lead in the push to fill the legal vacuum. The US have already made efforts towards transparency through the Cardin- Lugar amendment to the Dodd Frank Act - this will require all extractive companies to publish payments to the US and foreign governments in the countries where they operate. However, the amendment is receiving pushback from oil companies (such as Shell) reluctant to comply with new regulations, and consequently has now been delayed.
The push against new transparency laws has not stopped Ugandans from taking initiative to fight the odds of the resource curse. These demands are not made specific to their own government, but to other governments and international companies, highlighting the interconnected nature of corruption. This letter acknowledges the cooperative efforts needed to vaccinate against the infection the discovery of oil will likely generate. We need to recognize corruption as a trans-continental virus as the Ugandans do. Transparency can act as the vaccine.
It's easy to think about the common denominator in the resource curse as being "African government" while the role the international extractive companies play goes overlooked. Ugandans will not alone be held responsible for the corruption festering in their borders because of trans-border resource trading. They recognize the international responsibility in the resource curse - the need to root out the external influences breeding the corruption Uganda and other developing nations battle; by filling an international legal void.
Dear Prime Minister David Cameron, this is not a fight Uganda can win on its own. Evidently the Ugandans themselves are aware of the mutually reinforcing nature of back ally deal making, the sort that doesn't even really need to take place in the back ally because there's no law against it in the first place.
It's easier to accuse Uganda of "self-corrupting" and turn a blind eye to the role that our governments are playing. We ignore the silent western complicity in all of this. It's an easy excuse to cut aid too;the get-out clause. The viral argument made against the effectiveness of aid usually goes something like: 'The governments are all corrupted and unreliable, where is the money going?' Well, 'where is your money going Tullow Oil? Shell?' It's easier to place all the responsibility on the part of the developing country and make it look like it's all their fault. Then we don't have to feel guilty when we're cutting the budget, right? Ugandans however have made clear: Dear Prime Minister David Cameron, we are not taking the blame for this one.
Publish What You Pay state that secrecy in the energy and mining sectors has put the brakes on development around the world. The Ugandans have reached out, so what can we do? Sign the petition at Publish what you pay. Your signature asks your MEP to support the adoption of new transparency laws, which will put the foot of economic development back on the gas.