PWYP calls for commitments on beneficial ownership disclosure and protection of civic space

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Income from the extractive industries (oil, gas and mining) can be an important source of revenue for a country’s development. However, in many countries which are rich in natural resources, the revenues generated from the extraction of these resources don’t benefit the country’s population. Revenues are sometimes lost through mismanagement; but in other cases, they are lost as a result of corruption.

Secretly owned companies, where the identity of the beneficial owners is hidden, are a key mechanism through which money is laundered.

The 18th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, has placed a strong emphasis on the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 on peace, justice and open and effective institutions. As the conference draws to a close, Publish What You Pay calls on all governments to systematically collect and make publicly accessible the information on the beneficial owners of extractive companies domiciled and operating in their territories, and to actively analyse and act upon this analysis. Governments should utilise information on beneficial ownership and politically exposed persons (PEPs) in assessments during the licensing process for new extractives projects as a safeguard against nepotism and cronyism.

Publish What You Pay calls on oil, gas and mining companies to use beneficial ownership and PEP data in their due diligence of business partners and subcontractors to reduce the risk of corruption within their business operations and supply chains.

Alongside this call for opening up the murky world of extractive company ownership, governments and companies need to recognise the vital role civil society plays in using that information, and the risks many journalists and activists face in holding power to account. As the murders of journalists such as Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia) and Daphne Caruana Galizia (Malta) – who was posthumously awarded Transparency International’s 2018 Anti-Corruption Award – and the arrest and detention of activists in Niger make all too evident, these risks can be very grave.

Publish What You Pay activists will continue to play a crucial monitoring and watchdog role in order to hold governments and companies to account for the stewardship of natural resources. As we do so, we call for action to protect those who would use information from beneficial ownership registers, from reports on payments to governments and from disclosures in Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) reports to question and demand accountability. The dedicated women and men who investigate and expose corruption need governments and companies to work together to protect and expand civic space so that they can continue to do their valuable work.

US Senator Patrick Leahy argued last week, “Being a journalist is now one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and it is the responsibility of all of us to defend freedom of the press.” We need political support and firm commitments from governments to protect fundamental human rights such as the right to information and freedom of expression.

We call on companies to speak out to protect civic space. In addition to the strong moral case, as the B-Team’s “The Business Case for Protecting Civic Rights” report highlights, it makes clear business sense for companies to call for protection of civic space, because “limits on important civic freedoms are linked to negative economic outcomes”.

As the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative convenes a conference in West Africa on beneficial ownership transparency next week (1-2nd November), we wholeheartedly support the EITI’s push to progress the disclosure of information on beneficial ownership. We equally call on the EITI to strengthen its commitment to protect and expand the space for civil society including journalists to make use of disclosures about company ownership, payments to governments and other aspects of the oil, gas and mining sectors.

Publish What You Pay Global Council

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