Politics of Poverty

Transparency in Senegal

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By signing onto EITI, Senegal can demonstrate that transparency and accountability are priorities for the nation.

Kathryn Martorana was the former extractive industries campaign coordinator at Oxfam America.

Protests broke out in Senegal last Thursday over a bill introduced to Parliament which would change the constitution to lower the threshold of votes needed to win the first round of presidential elections. With elections set to occur in February 2012, this could mark the beginning of a turbulent time for the usually peaceful democratic West African nation, making national financial transparency in the country’s oil, gas, and mining sectors more important now than ever before.

When I visited the Sabodala gold mining region of eastern Senegal in 2010, community frustrations were palpable. A community of 500 inhabitants, the village of Faloumbou’s land, livelihood and water quality continued to be significantly impacted by the presence of the mining operations. No longer able to utilize once fertile farmland, community members were having difficulty making a living. With high rates of illiteracy, it’s difficult for citizens to capitalize on the few highly technical jobs offered by mining corporations. Only experiencing the harmful impacts of mining has made community members skeptical, if not angry because of the government’s lack of accountability for protecting its own citizens from economic harm.

In Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index, Senegal ranks a meager 2.9 on a 1-10 scale. Relatively new to gold production, Senegal has an opportunity to take the negative lessons from its neighbors, and use the flow of revenues from the industry to help the nation prosper. Ghana, a fellow gold producer, has been hosting international mining corporations for decades but has been unable to spread the wealth of the mineral amongst its citizens.

Supporting the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is one way countries like Senegal can enhance transparency and accountability in the sector. EITI, a voluntary initiative where corporations disclose how much money they are giving to governments and governments disclose how much revenues they are receiving from corporations, is an initial step for countries to mitigate far greater problems such as political corruption and regional insecurity, an unfortunate result of the instability caused by some operations.

However, EITI has its limitations. Payment disclosure often includes outdated information and is reported at the broader country-level, leaving civil society unable to drill down to specific project-level payments. National governments aren’t the only ones echoing the call for transparency, U.S. corporations such as Chevron, Hess, and Exxon and national and international NGOs such as Oxfam America, Revenue Watch Institute and the Open Society Institute are all supporting members of EITI. These NGOs also supported passage of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill which compliments EITI through requiring all extractives companies registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Senegal’s adoption of EITI would help strengthen civil society’s role in monitoring the government’s use of resource revenues. Accessing information on extractives revenue flows will help citizens hold their government accountable for what it is doing with the money. Is it being spent on building institutions that serve citizen needs? Strengthening the national education system? Ideally, the government along with civil society would develop a comprehensive plan for managing the revenues prior to production which would feed into a broader national development strategy.

The world has witnessed the repercussions of marginalizing citizens in resource-rich countries such as in Nigeria, a country rife with insecurity, which is creating a burgeoning of issues that is affecting the overall governance of the nation. Initiatives like EITI can be a starting point for preventing such calamities. Additionally, the instability in resource-rich countries can be a breeding ground for terrorism, which capitalizes on disenfranchised populations. It is in the interest of the United States and other developed countries to support the emergence of transparent, democratic, and equitable nations that will provide increased stability in the international economy and contribute to a more secure world. By signing onto EITI, Senegal can demonstrate that transparency and accountability are priorities for the nation.

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