Diamonds are an Autocrat’s Best Friend: Corruption in Zimbabwe’s Mining Industry

Earlier this month, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president of nearly 30 years, announced his intention to nationalize diamond mining. He explained the decision by blaming corruption in the industry for “robbing [the Zimbabwean people] of our wealth,” estimating the government’s loss in the past seven years as upwards of $13 billion. For a country with an annual budget of $4 billion, 30% of which comes from the money that does make its way from the diamond mines to the government’s coffers through taxes and other fees, this move has enormous economic significance. Factor in Zimbabwe’s recent attempts to convince international donors and investors that its basket case economic days are behind it, and the ripple effects of Mugabe’s decision are likely to be even more important.

Undoubtedly, Mugabe is right about one thing: there’s been plenty of corruption surrounding the diamonds of Marange, a district in eastern Zimbabwe, since the 2006 realization that the pebble-like objects “so common that children were using them in their catapults to shoot birds” actually represented “the richest diamond field ever seen by several orders of magnitude.” The trouble is that Mugabe is the one mostly responsible for that corruption. In fact, this nationalization plan is best understood as the next step in Mugabe’s utilization of corruption at the mines for his own benefit.

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Guest Post: U.S. Implementation of the EITI–Good Progress, But Needs Improvement

GAB is delighted to welcome back Daniel Dudis, Senior Policy Director for Government Accountability at Transparency International-USA, who contributes the following guest post:

The United States recently published its first narrative report and payment reconciliation report under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI was founded in 2003 to help end the “resource curse” by which the revenues generated from natural resource extraction benefit a small group of politically-connected insiders and do nothing to improve the lives of the vast majority of people in many resource-rich countries. The concept that underpins the EITI is simple: by requiring participating resource extraction companies to report the payments they make to all levels of government in a country, while simultaneously requiring participating governments to report the revenues (including royalties, bonuses, rents, penalties, fees, and corporate income taxes) received from those companies, one can compare the reported figures and bring transparency to an often opaque sector. This transparency can in turn be used to hold governments accountable for how they distribute and spend resource wealth. Membership in the EITI is voluntary; there are currently 49 countries participating. The EITI is governed at both the international and national levels by multi-stakeholder groups composed of representatives of government, civil society, and industry.

The recently published U.S. EITI report covers payments made and received in 2013. There is much valuable information in the both report and the accompanying U.S. EITI website. The Department of Interior is to be commended for publishing 100% of payments it received in 2013 from companies producing on federal lands and in federal waters (totaling approximately $12 billion), as well as state-by-state royalties for 18 resource-rich U.S. states. The report also provides detailed information on natural resource extraction governance at the federal, state, and tribal levels, statistics on the size of the extractives sector (in terms of economic output and employment), as well as a valuable assessment of the revenue sustainability in 12 resource-dependent counties.

That said, there are a couple of important respects in which the report falls short: Continue reading

A U.S. Court Jeopardizes Corporate Transparency Rules, in the Name of Free Speech

Transparency is often seen as an important anticorruption tool, perhaps nowhere more than in extractive industries. Notably, an international movement has called on extractive industry firms to “Publish What You Pay” (PWYP). The idea is that if it were public knowledge what these firms had paid for the concessions they receive from governments, the citizens in those countries (as well as journalists, NGOs, and others) would be better able to hold governments accountable for what they did with the money (and would make it harder for governments, or individual government officials, to lie about how much money they received). Many advocates therefore believe that it would be good public policy to enact PWYP rules that would compel these sorts of disclosures. But would such disclosure requirements violate the constitutional principle of freedom of speech? Alas, some U.S. judges seem to think so.

If the whole idea that disclosure requirements of this sort might infringe free speech rights seems bizarre, I’m with you—in my earlier post on this topic, discussing an earlier case that seemed to take this position, I used words like “absurd” and “inane.” Yet last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a new ruling (a follow-up to the earlier decision I ranted about last year) that seemed to strongly endorse a very broad constitutional protection for corporations against “compelled commercial speech,” which bodes ill. Although the most recent opinion, like the one I posted about last year, does not directly address PWYP mandates, the larger themes of the D.C. Circuit opinion are troubling, and suggest that this court (or at least some judges) may be hostile to the whole idea of using mandatory disclosures as a way to advance important public policy goals, including the fight against corruption. Continue reading

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: A Critique and Proposed Reforms

The natural resources sector–particularly extractive industries like mining and petroleum–is famously beset by corruption. In many countries, natural resource extraction is controlled by the wealthy, politically-connected elite, leading to a form of “resource curse” in which the majority of the population does not benefit from natural resource wealth and economic development outside the extractive sector stagnates. One of the most prominent strategies that has emerged in recent years to combat corruption in the extractive sector is a push for greater transparency. While many advocates of this strategy have pushed–with some qualified success–for laws that require greater disclosure by companies and governments, one of the most important pro-transparency initiatives is voluntary: the so-called Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

EITI members include states, companies, civil society groups, and institutional investors. Though membership is voluntary, members must comply with the principles established by the EITI board. Member companies are obligated to disclose the amount they pay for extractive contracts in member countries; EITI also also requires members to disclose revenues generated from the extractive industry and indicate how the revenues contribute to the national budget. Since its inception in 2002, EITI has claimed a number of successes. For example, EITI reports revealed a company owed US $8.3 billion in tax payments to the Nigerian government–more than what the Nigerian federal government spent on education over a period of 3 years.

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Is It Unconstitutional To Compel Extractive Industry Firms To Publish What They Pay?

Publish What You Pay” (PWYP) is the slogan of the international civil society movement to promote transparency and accountability in the extractive industry sector (oil, gas, minerals, etc.). The idea is to get firms to disclose what they pay to governments, and to get governments to disclose what they receive, in connection with extraction projects. Viewing voluntary programs like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative as insufficient, the PWYP movement has been pressing for mandatory disclosure requirements. But would such requirements violate the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

That question may seem absurd. Requiring truthful disclosures by commercial firms of payments to foreign governments may or may not be an effective anticorruption measure, but is it even plausible that such requirements would violate the constitutional guarantee of free speech? I think the answer should be no. But alas, as is often the case, it’s not clear that my view is shared by the federal judges who are likely to decide this issue. Indeed, there are worrisome signs that the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals may endorse an absurdly expansive conception of the First Amendment that would block any effective PWYP mandate. Continue reading