Why is Tax Justice central to the accountability agenda in the extractives sector?

On 20 April 2018 PWYP hosted a webinar on tax and extractives as part of our ongoing engagement with PWYP members around the world to inform the PWYP 2020-2025 global strategy.

Kwesi Obeng kicked off the conversation with a presentation of the key ideas in his discussion paper, with respondents Daniel Mule (Senior Policy Advisor on tax and extractives at Oxfam US) and Mona Thowsen (Secretary General PWYP Norway) picking up and exploring some of those themes in the context of their work at national and global levels.

Following the webinar, Elisa Peter, Executive Director and Stephanie Rochford, Director of Member Engagement, sat down to discuss what we learned and how some of the discussion might be reflected in PWYP’s strategic planning for 2020 to 2025.

– – – – –

Stephanie: Tax Justice is an umbrella concept that covers a wide range of issues – from the misguided use of tax incentives by governments to attract investment, to the need for cost-related data disclosure (in addition to payment data), to the use of tax havens by multinational companies that divert potential tax revenues, to questions relating to mineral quality and quantity, to the rights of communities (who are the ones most impacted by extractive activities) to access services and livelihoods. What are the themes that you felt resonated most strongly with our members during the discussion?

Elisa: Well it’s clear that members already see PWYP’s work to date as a contribution to a broad Tax Justice movement, given PWYP’s mission to ensure that any benefit (including tax revenues) derived from resource extraction is shared sustainably and equitably. I think that really came out clearly in this conversation – PWYP’s work at national and global levels is happening in the context of a Tax Justice agenda. This includes not only our flagship PWYP campaign on payment disclosure, but also the more recent push for beneficial ownership data, including through the EITI Standard; as well as the calls of many of our coalitions in the ‘home’ countries of multinational extractive companies for more transparency on tax through extended country by country reporting, as Mona from PWYP Norway pointed out. So, really, the question is not so much if but rather how PWYP can situate itself more strategically to work with other actors in the Tax Justice movement in a way that will enhance our respective impact and build on PWYP’s strengths as a global network of civil society activists.

Stephanie: Yes, PWYP’s strength and unique value absolutely lies in our member organisations – and many of them are human rights defenders. To what extent do you see an opportunity for PWYP to bring the rights of communities to the fore by incorporating aspects of the Tax Justice agenda more explicitly into our global strategy?

Elisa: That’s something that I think is becoming more evident: there’s a clear demand to look not only at the revenue collection aspect of a fair tax system but also how those taxes are then spent in a way that meets the needs of citizens, acknowledging that those needs will be very different depending on gender, class, poverty levels and many other factors. The example of Oxfam’s “Even it up” campaign can be a really useful one for PWYP to take inspiration from! Even if a country is able to capture the fair share of revenues generated by extraction through a solid fiscal regime, it is essential that the spending of these revenues is then managed effectively to alleviate poverty and end extreme inequality. Only when all these pieces are in place can natural resource exploitation be a force for good.

Stephanie: On that note, the question of the explicit link between tax and gender equality was posed during the discussion. Maybe that’s an angle where PWYP can add value at a global level?

Elisa: I was really pleased that this question of how tax relates to gender came up, particularly in light of the recent launch of our gender and EITI pilot project, which recognises that the transparency and accountability movement as a whole has not paid sufficient attention to the different ways in which women and men are able to participate in calling for and using extractives data. Kwesi’s response clearly highlighted that tax is absolutely gender discriminatory: for example, when tax breaks are offered for the benefit of corporations and their investors, the result is a reduced provision of the services that women tend to rely heavily on (such as healthcare, etc). So I definitely would like to see us continue to reflect on how we can do more as a movement to recognise and address the specific ways in which women are impacted by seemingly far removed macroeconomics decisions like tax policies.

Stephanie: Mukasiri Sibanda from PWYP Zimbabwe was unfortunately not able to join the webinar today, but he has eloquently expressed the need to ensure that the focus of PWYP’s work, as well as that of the Tax Justice movement, should be rooted in the rights of communities in resource rich countries to access services such as education, healthcare, infrastructure etc.

Elisa: Yes, and Daniel noted that greater participation in, and oversight of, expenditure of extractive revenues is a critical aspect of PWYP’s larger theory of change; but there are also a lot of challenges for PWYP members when it comes to looking at extractive revenues.

Stephanie: That’s true – unlike the issue of tax administration and collection, questions relating to expenditure of extractive revenues ultimately move into the realm of public financial management more broadly, since it’s rare to see ring-fenced budgets which would allow extractive revenue expenditure to be tracked. So the question of accountability here goes beyond extractives.

Elisa: I don’t think there’s a clear answer on how to handle this challenge – as a movement we will need to wrestle with the extent to which PWYP should, or is in a position to, focus our efforts on wider questions of public financial management.

Stephanie: And we have an all too timely example of why that’s not a conversation that PWYP can shy away from…

Elisa: Yes, the arrest of PWYP Niger national coordinator and Board member, Ali Idrissa, came about as a result of peacefully protesting against a finance law that they argue will foster corruption and facilitate tax breaks for the elite. Ali’s arrest brings home the realities of the powerful interests at play when it comes to natural resource extraction, and that accountability – natural resource justice – is not yet achieved and is going to be a hard won battle.

Stephanie: Yes, and this is something that we hope our new strategy will reflect as well – how PWYP members can create spaces to hold those powers to account. In terms of where we go next with our strategic planning in the context of Tax Justice in particular, what are some of the ideas that we want to bring to the PWYP Global Council when they meet in a couple of weeks to refine the 2020-2025 strategic priorities?

Elisa: There were a few key ideas from each of the participants that I found really exciting. For example, thinking about how we can leverage the power of the PWYP collective to tackle issues relating to tax incentives (something that Don Hubert clearly identifies as an entry point for engagement in the PWYP Canada report, “Many Ways to Lose a Billion”). Equally, there seem to be a few windows of opportunity to engage with corporate actors (for example, building on the work of the BTeam to develop responsible tax principles); or with multilateral institutions like the World Bank who are in a position to influence discriminatory tax systems. And there was a suggestion to develop more case studies that evidence the ways in which tax evasion and abuse in the extractive sector is facilitated, and the impact it has.

Stephanie: I agree, those were all really interesting aspects to consider. In addition, there was a clear message on the webinar that we need to capitalise on PWYP’s work over the past 16 years to make payment and contract information available, and to equip our members to use that information to make the evidence-based case for the equitable and sustainable management of the extractive sector.

Elisa: Absolutely – and we will continue that call for transparency which is what provides us with the evidence base to push for change.

– – – – –

Thanks to all those who joined the webinar and contributed your questions and comments. You can find a summary of the first webinar on The Future of Extraction here.

And if you missed the webinar you can catch up by watching the recoding below:

Further webinars on tax and extractives are taking place in French and Russian this week.

Further reading:

Talking transparency with a seat at the table

On the same day that Transparency International released its Corruption Perception Index 2016 that ranked Lebanon 136th out of 176th most corrupt countries for the 2nd consecutive year, Lebanon’s Cabinet of Ministers announced that the government intends to adopt the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.

A positive step towards improving the governance of Lebanon’s extractives sector, as indicated by Laury Haytayan, MENA senior officer at the Natural Resource Governance Institute,
such a tool won’t do much for Lebanon if the Lebanese don’t actively use it. It’s only when properly engaged with, that the full potential of such a transparency initiative can be unleashed.

For the past seven years, Lebanon has been getting ready to embark on the road to turn its recently discovered gas wealth into a blessing that will pull the country out of debt. With noticeable delays turning the start into a rocky one, the newly elected government has managed to manoeuvre the nascent gas sector out of the political deadlock that had halted its progress for the past three years.

On 4th January, the Lebanese government approved two decrees that are essential for pursuing the tender, which was launched in May 2013 and has been on hold since. The two decrees are: the tender protocol including the model exploration and production agreement. The government also examined the draft of the petroleum tax law. On 19 January, the Lebanese parliament passed the Access to Information Law. This is part of a package of 5 transparency laws (Access to Information Law, Protection of Whistle Blowers law, Budget law, taxation law, and Establishment of higher commission for anti-corruption law ) that the parliament is currently. These laws have an overarching draft law that is now being reviewed by the parliament. Strengthening transparency in the oil and gas sector law directly having better transparency and accountability in Lebanon’s nascent extractive sector.

These promising developments are signs that the government aims to govern this sector in a responsible and accountable manner. But these transparency laws don’t guarantee that civil society in Lebanon will be have an active role in the management of this sector.

Today, the commitment to join the EITI, offers the Lebanese civil society the means to do just that. The EITI as a multi-stakeholder initiative offers civil society a seat at the table and empowers them to actively contribute to governing their national wealth. Through its reporting requirements that range from information on licenses, beneficial ownership, contracts, social payments, budget, production and revenue data, civil society will have at its disposal information that will place it at equal grounds with other key players in the sector. The EITI in itself is not the magic wand, it is the tool that the government has placed in civil society’s hands so that the latter can hold government to account, monitor the management of the sector, and, last but not least, contribute to its reform.

Now that we have a seat at the table, it is time to get our house in order because we have just been given the chance to start implementing transparency.

Gebran Bassil when asked about oil deal: No deal!

This article was originally posted by LOGI and can be read here

Lebanese civil society asked the Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Gebran Bassil, during a public conference to clarify fears and rumors that could lead to corruption in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector … more information and his reaction below:

On September 16-17, 2016 the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants held the North America Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference in New York. The conference brought together Lebanese experts and expatriates in the United States and Canada to debate policy recommendations on issues related to entrepreneurship, energy, and education.

Notably a panel debating solutions to Lebanon’s energy challenges was moderated by Dr. Edgar Choueiri, Director of Princeton University’s Program in Engineering Physics. Panelists included Joseph Dableh – President LRT technologies & Oakville Green Development, Omar Sawaf – CEO Yellowstone Capital, Habib Dagher – Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites, and Ziad Azar – Lawyer at White & Case LLP.

Georges Sassine, co-founder of the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), participated in the panel and addressed several issues related to Lebanon’s oil and gas industry. He highlighted two key points in his remarks which Minister Bassil responded to during the Q&A session:

Called Minister Bassil to clarify rumors of an oil deal and avoiding risks of grand corruption

Sassine, spoke of risks of corruption in the future developments of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector and spoke of the critical need to avoid what he qualified of “Grand Corruption” given that oil revenues could amount to levels never seen before in Lebanon’s economy.

He went on to call Minister Bassil to clarify rumors of a political deal on the oil and gas sector reached between himself and Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri. He raised in the name of LOGI and Lebanese citizens their extreme concern about the lack of transparency regarding (1) the original disagreement, (2) the agreement, and (3) the current stalemate. He said that there are rumors that the deal involves awarding Southern blocks to Russian companies. While these statements could be inaccurate they still raise very serious concerns. It is the right of every Lebanese citizen to be informed on all decisions related to Lebanon’s riches and it is the government’s duty to make such information widely and easily available to the public.

Minister Bassil addressed these comments in a public statement recorded on video saying: “there was no deal”. He said that they agreed on resuming the licensing round process under the same conditions of transparency and professionalism that were adopted three years ago, as well as tendering the offshore blocks one at a time instead of all ten blocks at once. Minister Bassil went on to say that his political party is the guarantor that the offshore oil and gas resources will be developed on the condition of transparency – there will be no corruption otherwise these natural resources should not be exploited. To close, he said “so answering your question: there was no deal.”

Fears of legalizing corruption

Sassine, also raised concerns regarding a decree passed by the Council of Ministers on February 06, 2013. He pointed to a specific article 3.3 in that decree which makes it possible for companies that do not meet the required technical or financial qualifications to partner with qualified companies and participate in the offshore licensing round. There are fears that these local Lebanese companies could be linked to politicians, which would make such a requirement a way to legalize corruption. The solution is to take out such a condition, and disclose the owners of the companies involved in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector. Transparency and accountability mechanisms have to be embedded as a critical foundation of any oil and gas related laws and policies.

Minister Bassil objected to these comments, and disagreed that such a requirement was included in the decree claiming that the process is being developed in a transparent way.

As for next steps, the conference organizers established a follow up mechanism where selected conference participants, including Georges Sassine, will be following up with government officials to track progress on their recommendations.

Oil and gas drama in Lebanese Parliamentary workshop unearths three underlying issues in sector

On August 23, drama and havoc broke out in a workshop hosted by the Lebanese Parliament’s energy committee. Accusations of lack of coordination and transparency between Mohammad Qabani, head of the parliamentary energy committee, and members of the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) quickly deteriorated and led to the LPA’s withdrawal from the meeting.

While a detailed account of this event can be found here, the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) finds that these dynamics uncover three major issues in the sector and recommends the following:

1. Clear communication and transparency between government institutions are needed

The argument between Qabani and the LPA was caused by the lack of communication, transparent decision-making processes and access of information between Parliament, the Ministry of Energy and Water and the LPA. While in theory the decision-making process and division of responsibilities between the legislative, executive and regulatory branches are well-defined for the oil and gas sector (and can be found here), this show of discord exposes a fundamental breakdown in working relations among the institutions.

Clear division of roles and responsibilities and effective communication channels will be crucial in establishing a healthy oil and gas sector in Lebanon – across government institutions, and with the private sector, civil society and citizens. Flawless implementation will be vital to create a system of checks and balances and move away from one body having unmatched influence in shaping the sector.

2. Civil society has to be given an equal seat at the table

While civil society organizations were invited to participate in the event, the list of invitees remained limited and handpicked. A broader group of capable civil society organizations need to be involved to ensure balanced and complete representation.

Civil society was also not allocated equal airtime to raise its concerns compared to other participants. During the Q&A session civil society was allocated only three minutes for its intervention.

LOGI calls the organizers of these events, the LPA, and the Parliament’s energy committee to expand civil society representation allotting equal time to articulate their perspective.

3. Legitimate concerns about political deals and risks of corruption

Triggering the debacle was a question civil society has been asking in the two years since Executive Magazine published an exposé of a loophole found in the prequalifying licensing decree, and a request for clarification of July’s supposed political deal.

These are legitimate questions that civil society, including LOGI, is raising on a continuous basis. These issues need to be formally addressed by the government and political parties. The risks of corruption are high, and vague answers to these questions raise high suspicions.

In summary, the escalation of events at the conference was unfortunate. LOGI would like to facilitate a constructive and respectful debate with various stakeholders. Strong emotions and tensions are the least to expect when there is lack of coordination and cooperation in a vital national sector. This incident highlights the urgent need to improve the governance of the sector before it properly takes off.

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), is an independent NGO that promotes the transparent and sound management of Lebanon’s oil and gas resources. LOGI is a member of the Publish What You Pay Network (PWYP). You can learn more at: www.logi-lebanon.org

Breaking the Norm: A wake-up call for Lebanese Civil Society

Mistrust, anger, accusations, secrecy, and frustration are but some of the vocabulary that civil society in Lebanon should feel pretty comfortable using when asked to describe the prenatal condition of its oil and gas sector.

Amidst the bickering of those entrusted with overseeing the smooth running of the nascent sector, the Lebanese public stands on the margins of sanity witnessing what might be their last chance of having a normal existence being torn to shreds by the jaws of the all-powerful few.

With 3 minutes to spare, civil society today was given a chance to ask 3 questions, questions whose answers led to the outbreak of accusations, anger and the expression of mistrust between two regulatory bodies: an advisory body represented by the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) and a legislative body represented by the head of the committee for energy at the Lebanese parliament.

So what happened today during the workshop – organized by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for members of the Lebanese parliament and a select few from civil society (national and international) – and the media around the management and governance of the oil and gas sector in Lebanon?

After Dr. Carol Nakhle briefed us about the comparative study she has prepared around the management and governance of the oil and gas sector in Lebanon (comparing Lebanon to three other countries, namely Norway, Israel and Cyprus), the floor was open for discussion, subsequently led and facilitated by the head of the energy committee at the Lebanese parliament. The remarks, namely formulated by members of parliament attending were geopolitical in nature, and were addressed to members of the LPA with some to Dr. Nakhle.

The obvious undercurrents and tension between members of the LPA and the head of the energy committee were almost tangible. It was quite obvious that there were/are some unresolved issues. To members of civil society, such ambiguous undercurrents and tensions do not foreshadow smooth sailing for the sector.

In fact, they only serve to confirm our skepticism towards what is happening behind closed doors and away from the watchful eye of the public. And it was during these exact settings that a member of civil society, the executive director of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, Dr. Sami Attallah, posed substantial questions.

The questions pertained to the process that led to the qualification of two ‘newly-born’ companies for the pre-qualification round (Apex registered in Hong Kong and Petroleb registered in Lebanon), the reasons behind the continued stall in issuing the needed decrees, and last but not least the real reasons behind the disagreement/agreement that has occurred between two political parties lately regarding the oil and gas sector.

These questions, rightfully posed by civil society within its capacity as watchdogs of the sector, sparked accusations between head of the energy committee and members of the LPA; accusations born out of the absence of clear methods of communication, transparent decision making processes and last but not least a terminal lack of access to information.

The incident in itself may not be fatal, but with track records of mismanagement attributed to electricity, water, waste, and environment, just to name a few, we need to take heed and make sure that the work being done so far is not only maintained but strengthened. We must lead sustainability through the establishment of robust and transparent mechanisms of communication and access to information that will allow us to avoid such future clashes between the different oversight bodies entrusted with the running of the sector.

Civil society can play a vital role in breaking the existing norm of mistrust, miscommunication and secrecy. How do we break the norm? We push to have agents of change. We put in place laws, regulations and processes that are transparent, can maximize participation, and are inclusive. What happened today in front of the eyes of civil society should prompt it to be more effective and involved in its nascent and vital oil and gas sector.

Decisions, information, regulations and laws are not a blessing in the hands of the few. They are our right and they are the tools which we as civil society need to strive to acquire in order to hold the reigns over our natural resources.

What happened today was a wake-up call. Change needs to happen and civil society needs to spearhead it.

Lebanon oil and gas political deal: LOGI demands clarifications and transparency

When conversations are held behind closed doors, especially in Lebanon, suspicion heightens. In July and, reportedly, again in August 2016 Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri met with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to smooth tensions and disagreement over how Lebanon’s oil and gas sector should move forward. By some accounts a “deal” was reached, yet others say it was just a PR move to show that everyone is on the same page. But we are not on the same page.

Information is being withheld and meetings like this are convened away from the public eye and outside the proper institutions. This political interference has left decision-making in oil and gas sector in a deadlock. Because of this interference none of the relevant institutions – the technical body advising the ministry, the ministry itself, the council of ministers or a ministerial committee tasked by the prime minister, or the energy committee in parliament – have communicated with the public the decisions that are (or are not) being made. Instead we’re left with high level politicians, speaking behind closed doors, about details that must be left to the appropriate institutions.

Closed-door meetings raise suspicion, even if no deal was actually made, because they enable decisions to be made away from scrutiny and debate. This sector should develop according to international standards allowing the appropriate government institutions to design and implement sound policy for a sustainable sector.
What will LOGI do about it?

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), an independent NGO building a global network of oil and gas experts, would like to raise serious concerns about the recent developments in Lebanon’s oil and gas industry. Transparency is crucial for the development of the sector. LOGI would like to formally raise the following four points to the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), the Ministry of Energy & Water, the Council of Ministers, and all other stakeholders:

  1. A political deal has been reached between two political parties regarding the oil and gas sector in Lebanon. LOGI is extremely concerned about the lack of transparency regarding (1) the original disagreement, (2) the agreement, and (3) the current stalemate.
  2. There are rumours that the deal involves awarding Southern blocks to Russian companies. While these statements could be inaccurate or accurate they raise very serious concerns. It undermines the credibility and the work that the LPA has done so far. It is the right of every Lebanese citizen to be informed on all decisions related to Lebanon’s riches and it is the government’s duty to make such information widely and easily available to the public.
  3. LOGI urges the LPA, the Ministry of Energy & Water, the Council of Ministers and all political parties and stakeholders to commit to full transparency in the management of the oil and gas dossier in Lebanon.
  4. LOGI expects concrete steps to be taken from the LPA, the Ministry of Energy & Water, the Council of Ministers and all other stakeholders to clarify the issues at hand. LOGI urges them to make an official public statement addressing the above mentioned issues and concerns.

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), is an independent NGO that promotes the transparent and sound management of Lebanon’s oil and gas resources. LOGI is a member of the Publish What You Pay Network (PWYP). You can learn more at: www.logi-lebanon.org

Lebanese MPs recommend joining the EITI: a step welcomed with cautious optimism by civil society

On March 22, the Lebanese Parliament’s energy committee issued a recommendation to the government to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) with the aim to enhance transparency and accountability in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector.

Through this effort Lebanese officials are signalling that Lebanon is serious about adopting transparency measures in its petroleum industry in order to re-engage disinterested international oil and gas companies.

The workshop, during which this recommendation was issued, was organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and involved thirteen members of parliament, the Minister of Energy and Water, the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA), representatives of key ministries, and a World Bank representative.

Given that civil society is a vital stakeholder and a cornerstone of the EITI process, the Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), an NGO promoting transparency and accountability, calls upon WFD and the LPA to open future EITI discussions to national civil society organisations.

There is a unique opportunity for Lebanon to adopt transparency and accountability measures prior to starting its petroleum exploration journey. LOGI is keen on embracing the EITI process and welcomes this very important step taken by the Lebanese members of Parliament.

LOGI hopes that these statements are followed up by tangible steps towards the adoption, and most importantly, the implementation of EITI standards in Lebanon. While an official recommendation to the government is a great start, LOGI is eager to see more action that moves us beyond cosmetics and towards real reforms and results. As part of its advocacy plan, LOGI is determined to support the MPs in their call and help engage the government and civil society to adopt the EITI standards.

If the EITI is to be implemented in Lebanon civil society has to be able to play an active role in the governance of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector. This will require Lebanese civil society organisations, including LOGI, to bolster its capabilities and have an official mechanism to influence the sector and have a seat at the decision table.

In short, a promising small step in Lebanon but there is still a long way ahead to drive transparency and accountability through a real participatory process.

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI), is an independent NGO that promotes the transparent and sound management of Lebanon’s oil and gas resources. LOGI is a member of the Publish What You Pay Network (PWYP). You can learn more at: www.logi-lebanon.org

Lebanon

The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) joined PWYP in 2015 as Lebanon’s first member, enabling it to access global organisations with the expertise, experience and resources to build transparency in the country’s emerging oil and gas sector. The oganisation’s goals are legal and policy reform to promote extractive transparency, and mitigation of the environmental impact of extraction. In 2017, with PWYP’s support, LOGI successfully advocated for the country’s Strategic Environmental Assessment for oil and gas extraction to be repeated, to higher standards.

In 2018, LOGI also advocated successfully for publication of Lebanon’s first Exploration and Production Agreements. The country has officially started the 3-5 year exploration process via a consortium of Total, ENI and Novatek, aiming to uncover commercially viable oil and gas reserves. LOGI is currently lobbying for the government to develop a national oil and gas strategy to shape laws related to the management of future extractive revenue.

LOGI also works to strengthen civil society’s role in the oil and gas sector. In 2017, Lebanon declared its intention to implement the EITI. In response, CSOs including LOGI formed a coalition, “The Lebanese Coalition for Good Governance in the Extractive Industries”, supported by major international foundations. The coalition aims at strengthening civil society’s role in the nascent oil and gas sector. It has elected a steering committee and is currently applying for PWYP membership to enhance its regional and international credibility and profile.

Exploring the reality of the oil and gas sector in Lebanon

On May 30, the Order of Engineers in Lebanon, Tripoli chapter, hosted its first oil and gas conference entitled “Oil and Gas in Lebanon: Between reality and Dream”.

The conference comes at a time when Lebanon’s nascent extractive industry sector is in limbo waiting for two important decrees to be issued that will kick-start the licensing round, namely, the decree pertaining to block delineation and the other concerning the Exploration Production Agreement (EPA). The EPA includes the specific fiscal terms that will govern the agreement between the extractive companies and the Lebanese government.

Speakers during the one day conference, that hosted nearly 100 participants, ranged from government officials, represented by the Minister of Energy himself, members from the Lebanese Petroleum Administration, in addition to members of the civil society oversight body represented by the media, environmentalists, lawyers and governance experts.

As Publish What You Pay, our role was to shed light on the important role that needs to be played by civil society in Lebanon if the latter is to experience the blessing rather than the curse of its natural resources. Being an integral part of civil society, professional unions and trade unions have a huge responsibility with respect to the proper governance of the natural resources. As outlined by PWYP’s Chain for Change under the first pillar of “Publish why you pay and how you extract”, professional associations need to play an oversight role. Projects should to be monitored by governments and industry but also through independent mechanisms to ensure that any contractual breaches are amended.

With the extractives in Lebanon being a nascent sector, professionals such as engineers are challenged with new areas in which they need to enhance their knowledge and skills. Lebanon’s EPA has local content elements: a gradual increase to having 80% of those being employed by the EI companies to be Lebanese. Lebanon’s Order of Engineers is one of the largest professional unions in Lebanon, including more than 55,000 registered engineers.

These engineers can, as part of a greater civil society, play a huge role in ensuring that all Lebanese citizens benefit from their natural resource wealth through good governance in the sector. Let’s make sure they seize that opportunity and responsibility!

In Lebanon, academics head discussions for how to ensure extractives become a blessing

Amidst all the delays, postponements, optimism and pessimism that have been shrouding the extractive industry’s birth in Lebanon for the past two years, one university, the Rafic Hariri University decided to enter the foray from a comprehensive angle. On April 16th, RHU launched its first Mediterranean Gas and Oil international conference 2015 (MedGO). The conference lasted three days, concluding on April 18th. By hosting an impressive number of global experts, the conference managed to offer a platform for academics, EI experts, public officials, as well as Lebanese civil society, to discuss and obtain a comprehensive view of this nascent sector that may promise to become a blessing for Lebanon if managed well.

The topics covered by experts from around the globe (France, the Netherlands, USA, Libya, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Lebanon) ranged between highly technical subjects (exploration, drilling, downstream, and production techniques) , to more socio-economic ones. Discussions around the geo-political implications pertaining to the management of the extractive sector in Lebanon were carried by key experts on the East Med energy policies.

Special attention was given to the key role that civil society in Lebanon needs to play in order to ensure good governance of its future wealth. Publish What You Pay shared lessons from international experiences of how civil society from around the globe strives to play a key role in turning natural resource revenues into sustainable development. The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (LOGI) was show-cased during the conference as an example of the role that civil society in Lebanon could play in the good governance of this sector. With the objective of offering a platform to liaise with the wider Lebanese public on issues that will enable them to become more informed about their natural wealth, LOGI is set on building the capacity of civil society in Lebanon and empowering it to become a decision maker and a policy influencer.

Over all, the conference was unique in the sense that it is the first international assembly to be organised by the academic body in Lebanon. With the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (a government consultative body) taking the lead so far in organising such conferences (with a heavy presence of the private sector represented by the International Oil Companies), it is eye-catching to notice the sudden interest from the academic world in this nascent sector. Other university led discussions are now occurring within the different campuses in Lebanon. The Notre Dame University hosted last month a seminar with speakers from PWYP, NRGI and LCPS. The topic centred around the key role that civil society needs to play to ensure proper management of its natural resources. A substantial interest from the student and academic body has resulted in the creation of a working group at Notre Dame University, focused on building a network within the Lebanese universities that can help inform and empower the greater civil society in Lebanon to get engaged in the sector.

With the ever evolving definition of civil society, which now transcends NGOs to include academic body, unions, and the media, Lebanon may well present a unique model of having its civil society’s engagement in this challenging sector being spearheaded by the rigour the academic world would offer!