President Obama takes steps forward on transparency

By kfield

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Washington, DC – The international humanitarian organization Oxfam America commended President Obama for committing the United States today to a National Action Plan on open government that includes greater transparency of the oil, gas and mining industry as well as making US foreign assistance more effective by providing recipients and taxpayers information they need. President Obama announced these commitments at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) event today in New York.

“President Obama’s commitments will help citizens follow the money at home and abroad, whether it is oil and mining companies paying for sweetheart deals, or government ministries failing to deliver results for their people.” said Gregory Adams, Oxfam America’s director of aid effectiveness. 

As part of the OGP Initiative, the President has committed to the domestic implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a set of voluntary principles under which governments publicly disclose their revenues from oil, gas and mining projects, and companies make parallel disclosures regarding payments they make to host governments for accessing publicly owned resources. So far, eleven countries have implemented EITI and the United States is the first G8 country to commit to implementation.

“Implementing the EITI will not only ensure that US taxpayers are receiving every dollar due for the extraction of America's natural resources but also build on the landmark ‘Cardin-Lugar’ provision passed last year as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act,” said Ian Gary, policy manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “From rural villagers in Africa to investors on Wall Street, the EITI, coupled with the Cardin-Lugar provision, casts the transparency net far and wide, sending a strong signal domestically and internationally.”

The Cardin-Lugar provision already requires publicly-traded oil, gas and mining companies operating on Federal lands and US offshore fields to disclose payments made to the Federal government.  In addition, the provision requires any oil, gas or mining company reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose this same information for any country where they operate. The SEC should quickly issue a final rule to implement the Cardin-Lugar provision. If the United States fully implements EITI, privately-held companies not reporting to the SEC will also be required to disclose information. For example, Hunt Oil, a privately-held company, will have to disclose their payments, which will help create a level playing field of disclosure in the United States between public and private companies.

Also part of OGP, the President committed to taking further steps to make US foreign assistance transparent, a key area where OGP governments could potentially make new commitments on managing public resources more effectively. If, as promised, this new plan is applied to the entire US government—including aid provided by the Department of Defense—this policy could have a real impact to improve the quality of US efforts to fight poverty around the world.

When aid recipients don’t know what the US is funding, governments can’t plan, and citizens can’t hold their governments accountable.  And despite the US government’s stated best intentions, lack of transparency fuels rumors about our motives. Oxfam research has shown that in many countries, recipients have too little information about what the US is funding where, and for what purpose.

“Without information, government ministers can’t plan well, entrepreneurs can’t invest wisely, and citizens rightly question US motives,” said Adams. “To be a true global leader in the fight against poverty, the US needs to provide data that is useful to recipient governments and citizens as well as US taxpayers.”

Going forward, Oxfam America recommends that the United States continue its efforts in supporting greater aid transparency by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which establishes international standards for reporting aid data that would facilitate comparability.

“As a leading international donor, the US has a responsibility to step up its commitments and own transparency ahead of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea at the end of the year,” said Adams.