Tomorrow has arrived. Canadian-listed mining, oil and gas companies operate in more than 100 countries around the world – including some of Africa’s poorest countries. After years of calling on the Canadian government to require companies like these to disclose payments to foreign governments, ONE members and ONE partner organizations like Publish What You Pay Canada finally have what they have been asking for: data.
Thanks to a Canadian law that came into force in 2015, these companies are now required to report – for the first time ever – their contributions to governments. Data like this can empower citizens in some of the poorest countries to hold their governments accountable for how that money gets used and to help identify and curb corruption.
Payments to Libya, Zambia, Senegal & Nigeria
The data released so far shows large payments made to at least 18 African governments. Here are a few examples:
First Quantum Minerals, a Canadian metal mining company, reports that it paid $293 million to the Zambian government in 2016, an amount roughly equivalent to one-fifth of Zambia’s 2017 education budget. These payments were mostly royalties and taxes for the Kansanshi project, the largest copper mine in Africa.
Suncor Energy, a large Canadian energy company, paid $29 million in taxes and royalties to Libya’s National Oil Corporation in 2016 for the exploration of oil fields in Libya. $29 million is a sizeable sum for a country struggling to recover from a civil war and address an ongoing ISIS insurgency.
Teranga Gold Corporation is the Canadian gold mining company that owns and operates the only large-scale gold mine in Senegal. It reports that it paid $71 million to the Senegalese government in 2016, which is equal to nearly a fifth of the budget for Senegal’s Ministry of Health.
CNOOC Limited, the Chinese state-owned oil company, owners of the Canadian oil and gas company Nexen, paid $109 million in 2016 to the government of Nigeria. $109 million is almost half of Nigeria’s 2017 capital budget for the Federal Ministry of Education.
Follow the money
Data like this gives valuable clues to citizens of recipient countries and can help them to follow the money. For instance, the First Quantum Minerals data shows that the company paid $376,000 to benefit national parks, wildlife and schools in Zambia. Someone in Zambia can now dig deeper: Which national park agencies, wildlife groups and schools? What has the money been used for? Locals can hold decision makers to account for how the money was actually spent by getting answers to questions like these. The data also highlights the value of detailed, project-level payment information, which provides citizens with highly useful data for tracking revenue streams.
But this is just the beginning! If every country in the world followed Canada’s lead and required companies to publish this data, citizens would have a complete picture of how their country’s natural resources were being sold. Citizens of Zambia could demand that money from their country’s copper goes towards things like education, health, infrastructure and ending poverty, so that all citizens benefit from their country’s natural resource wealth. At ONE, we’re working with partners around the world to make that a reality.
By making this data public, the Canadian government has taken a critically important leadership role to help enable people to hold their governments to account. But the Canadian government could make the data easier to use by requiring companies to publish the information as “open data”. In data-speak, that means in an open, machine-readable format; for example, as a CSV file that can be opened in Excel instead of a PDF. Some governments like the U.K. already require that data be provided in machine-readable formats. Although PDF is a more common format, open data formats like CSV would allow people to more easily analyze and identify the payments that flowed to their government.
Luckily, a number of companies (i.e. Potash Corporation and Mosaic) have already gone above and beyond by voluntarily publishing their data in an open data format, demonstrating that doing so isn’t a heavy lift for companies.
Transparency is the backbone of a just and well-governed society. The disclosure of new data on payments to governments in the mining, oil and gas sectors will provide citizens with previously unthinkable opportunities to ask their governments important questions about how these payments get used.
You can explore the data at the Canadian Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act website. All figures are converted to Canadian Dollars.