Talking transparency with a seat at the table

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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.

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