Lifting the Resource Curse

Countries that are rich in natural resources are often poor, because exploiting those resources has taken precedence over good government. Competing oil and mining companies, backed by their governments, are often willing to deal with anyone who can assure them of a concession. This has bred corrupt and repressive governments and armed conflict. In Africa, resource-rich countries like Congo, Angola, and Sudan have been devastated by civil wars. In the Middle East, democratic development has been lagging.

Curing this “resource curse” could make a major contribution to alleviating poverty and misery in the world, and there is an international movement afoot to do just that. The first step is transparency; the second is accountability.

The movement started a few years ago with the Publish What You Pay campaign, which urged oil and mining companies to disclose payments to governments. In response, the British government launched the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Yesterday, three years into the process, the UK convened an important EITI conference in London attended by representatives of governments, business, and civil society.

Much has already been accomplished. On the business side, the major international extractive companies have started to acknowledge the value and necessity of greater transparency. British Petroleum has undertaken to disclose disaggregated payment information on its operations in Azerbaijan, and Royal Dutch Shell is doing the same in Nigeria. ChevronTexaco recently negotiated an agreement with Nigeria and Sao Tome that includes a transparency clause requiring publication of company payments in the joint production zone.