Dec 04 2012

Revenue Watch seeks to promote transparency in Libya's oil and gas industries

Ms Patricia Karam, the Director of Middle East and North Africa at Revenue Watch talking to The Tripoli Post

By Karen Dabrowska

Revenue Watch, a capacity building and technical assistance organisation that focuses on building capacity for good governance in the oil, gas and mining sectors around the world held a two-day conference at the Al Waddan Hotel in Tripoli. The keynote address was made by the head of the Energy Committee in Parliament.

Patricia Karam, the Director of Middle East and North Africa at Revenue Watch told The Tripoli Post that civil society in Libya is still young. ?Some groups are more fluid than others. People have more than one job, civil society is nascent here.?

She said that most of the attendees at the conference were ?people who could fit into the category of established civil society or potential civil society, activists, whistle blowers, people who work in the Central Bank and are interested in becoming activists, people who work in transparency institutions who want to get a better understanding of what they can do around oil and gas.?

Karam emphasised that the problem with Libya is the transition that is taking place and the fact that little is being done explicitly. ?There is good will on the part of the government to do everything in the domain of transparency, but they have only expressed positive intent and little has been done. The excuse always is that little is being done because things are in motion and there is a transitional process under way.

?The government could show its good intent by looking into joining the EITI because the threshold is relatively low. It is a very nice gesture in terms of showing an intent to promote an agenda and incorporate a transparency mandate in their agenda.?

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) promotes openness and accountability in the oil, gas and mining sectors. At the core of the initiative are the EITI Rules: twenty-one requirements that detail what candidate countries must do to join, achieve and maintain compliance with the initiative?s global standard for reporting extractive revenues. The rules include provisions designed to ensure effective participation of civil society organizations.

Karam believes that contracts could be published and make them available on line. ?The only other country that has done that is the Kurdish regional government. It is a good precedent. It means that it is duable. There needs to be improvement on the revenue management side.

?There is confusion about the Libyan Investment Authority and the changes which are taking place now. There needs to be strong governance and a transparency framework created in the governance of the Libyan Investment Authority - people need to know how this money is being managed and where it is going. It is important that these issues are talked about.

Karam went on to say that their work has shown that when a country depends on natural resources the link between the citizen and the state is fragile. The government?s budget is not coming from taxes ? it is coming from resources.

She said there needs to be a strong effort to rebuild the link between the government and the citizen and in that process transparency is important. ?The government needs to be accountable. The citizens need to know where the money is going,? she added.

During the workshop the issue of how natural resources should be treated in the constitution was discussed.

Karam explained that the question is how to treat natural resources, especially in a country where 95% of the budget comes from natural resources. ?Should you include a revenue management structure in the constitution - should you make it vague? What are the implications? What do other countries do?

?There is also the issue of revenue sharing. Is this made explicit in the constitution? Some people are proponents of putting everything in the constitution. Others say ?no?.

?We are looking at the best practices from around the world on how these things are done - what works and what does not. We are not here to say what should be done. We are here to present options in terms of what can be done.? the director at Revenue Watch said.

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