Ten years on: “Publish What You Pay” celebrates a landmark anniversary

250 delegates from 62 countries were joining in the celebrations in Amsterdam.

December 10, 2012
Heidi Feldt

When a small group of non-governmental organisations in London launched “Publish What You Pay” back in 2002 in order to lend weight to their call for more transparency in the extractive industries, there was little sign that ten years on, it would be the largest global network of NGOs campaigning in the resource sector. This September, the network marked its landmark tenth anniversary with a conference in Amsterdam, with 250 delegates from 62 countries joining in the celebrations. This article offers an insight into what makes the campaign so successful and outlines some of the challenges ahead.

Publish What You Pay – what’s it all about?

In the 1990s, exposés by Global Witness, Christian Aid, Save the Children and various other organisations revealed that public budgets in many resource-rich countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America were losing out on billions of dollars of revenue as a result of bribery and corruption in the extractive industries. Pressure on governments to take action against corruption had yielded little success. So the NGOs adopted a different tactic, urging the extractive industries – the mining, oil and gas companies – to publish the payments they were making to governments. This gave the campaign its name – “Publish What You Pay”.

At first, the campaign met with nothing but derision. World Bank representatives were adamant that PWYP had no chance of achieving its demands. In their view, bribery and corruption were endemic in the extractive industries, and nothing could be done. But PWYP found important advocates and supporters elsewhere, notably in the person of George Soros, whose Open Society Institute and Revenue Watch Institute provided vital financial and political support and played a key role in opening doors for the campaign.

PWYP’s core message was simple: as mineral resources are a public good almost everywhere in the world, people in resource-rich countries have a right to share in the benefits deriving from their national resource wealth, and they also have a right to know how much revenue their government receives from the extractive industries. PWYP’s focus on this one key message, underpinned by sound research, was a major factor in ensuring that its agenda was adopted at the political level.

The launch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2003 was, of course, a major milestone for the campaign. At first, the intensive collaboration with EITI – a voluntary initiative to increase transparency in the extractive industries – aroused controversy within PWYP. It was the advocates of cooperation, who recognised that EITI was an opportunity to increase transparency, who prevailed. Since then, PWYP has done much to ensure that civil society participation in EITI at national and international level is now an essential element of EITI implementation.

But participation in EITI was important for PWYP for another reason as well: it meant that many non-governmental organisations from Africa, Asia and Latin America could now become actively involved in its work. In the first few years of its existence, PWYP focused mainly on Europe and North America, but in latter years, the network has expanded and now has more than 700 member organisations in over 60 countries. This has resulted in a shift in the focus of PWYP’s campaigns.

Publish what you earn – publish how you spend it

For the non-governmental organisations from the countries of the Global South, demanding accountability from their governments was just as much of a priority as transparency. PWYP therefore widened its mandate, which was redefined as “Publish what you earn – publish how you spend it”. (Mission statement http://www.publishwhatyoupay.org/en/mission)

At the conference in Amsterdam, however, it became apparent that in some countries, PWYP has not yet succeeded in creating linkage between transparency and the debate about public budgets and spending.

Mandatory disclosure of payments

Over the last two years, PWYP’s campaign for mandatory disclosure of extractive industry companies’ payments to governments has made good progress.

In the US, transparency obligations for mining, oil and gas companies whose shares are traded on the US stock exchanges have now been incorporated into a major item of legislation regulating the financial markets, the Dodd-Frank Act. This year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published the rules implementing the relevant sections of the Act, enabling them to enter into force (although the American Petroleum Institute, a lobby group representing the US oil industry, has launched a legal challenge to block implementation).

In the EU, the European Commission has brought forward a proposal for similar regulations, backed by a vote in the relevant parliamentary committee. A trialogue between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission is now under way to flesh out the details.

PWYP has been successful in that it has integrated its demands into major institutions’ policy agenda and has come closer to its aim of making transparency mandatory. So what does the future hold? Should PWYP:

  • disband once binding rules have been adopted in the EU and other countries such as Canada and Australia?

  •  focus on the work taking place within the EITI framework, which would be mainly an option for non-governmental organisations in EITI implementing countries, or

  • widen its mission and continue to develop the PWYP network?

This question was discussed at the conference in Amsterdam following a one-year process of evaluation and reflection involving external assessments, surveys among the national coalitions, and regional workshops.

Widening of the mission

PWYP’s member coalitions have voted to continue to develop the campaign and broaden the mission to include the following issues:

  • Should extraction take place at all, and if so, under which conditions (“Publish why you pay and how you extract”)?

  • Who are the decision-makers? How much influence is exerted in this context by local communities and to which extent is the principle of free, prior and informed consent by these communities realised?

With this broader approach, PWYP is moving away from its focus on one specific issue and demand. As a result, it may lose some of its political impact. On the other hand, a widening of its strategy was urgently needed and is the logical outcome of its work to date. Over the coming months, the member coalitions will be discussing how they can also broaden their strategic approach at the national level.

There is another major development to report: some member organisations in resource-rich countries are starting to give thought to the direction their country might take if there were no mining or oil industry (post-extractivism). Their starting point is the call by other civil society organisations in the industrialised countries for a reduction in the volume of newly extracted resources being processed. Although a joint campaign has yet to be launched, this emerging challenge has now been identified and may well feature as an item on the agenda at PWYP’s next conference, due to take place in three years’ time.



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