A guest post from Ahmed Tareq Rashid on the Data + Extractives impact panel.
Too often we hear about the conundrum that countries that are rich in natural resources are the poorest in the world- a phenomenon known as “resource curse”. Africa, for example, is home to a third of the planet’s mineral reserves and produces two-thirds of the diamond. One of the major problems in extractive industries is poor regulatory frameworks and lack of transparency in the way information about financial transactions and, more importantly, the impact on people and communities affected by extraction activities. Can open data help to change that? The panel on Data+Extractives showcased some new innovative initiatives and platforms from Canada, India, Indonesia, Ghana, Mexico and United States, that are going a long a way towards addressing these problems.
Sharing data between industry and governments — a two-way street
Many developing country governments do not publish usable data on extractive industries due to lack of awareness, capacity, and legislative mechanisms, as evident in India and Ghana. While Mexico has better legislations on open data, it is lagging behind in the practice of sharing data. However, the onus of disclosing information is not just on the governements– but everyone involved in the value chain of resource extraction. This is the focus of Publish What You Pay – a global coalition of civil society organisations advocating for an open and accountable extractive sector through publication of critical information like contracts, revenue payments and receipts. Global movements in setting standards for governance in the extractive sector such as Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) ensures full disclosure, albeit on a voluntary basis of taxes and other payments made by oil, gas and mining companies to governments.
Lets ride the wave of open data… for those who matter most..
It is clear from the panel that open data is gaining ground in the extractive industries. In Ghana, Catalyzing Open Data for Extractives project is using open data to better link betwen extractive revenues and human development outcomes. A pilot project in West Kalimantan province of Indonesia is using spatial analyis to show law violations by mining companies that are having negative effect on the environment and the lives of indigenous communities. Climate Finance Integrity Project by Transparencia Mexicana aims to reduce corruption in resource allocation in climate change actions by examining climate financing.
A message that specially echoed in this panel is that when it comes to open data it is less about apps, high- tech solutions, but more about the people impacted by resource extraction. In many contexts, the local people do not have access to mobile phones and other technologies to take advantage of open data. It is here the role of civil society actors is critical in mediating the information in a way that make sense to people, thereby empowering them. Open data initiatives driven by community needs and based on the ethos of community ownership will go a long way in ensuring that the people benefit from resource extraction, and that their rights are protected.