After the Repeal of the U.S. Publish-What-You-Pay Rule, What Happens Next?

As most readers of this blog are likely aware, despite the valiant lobbying efforts of a broad and bipartisan swath of the anticorruption community (as well as a last-minute plug from GAB), the United States House and Senate recently passed a joint resolution, pursuant to a statute called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to repeal the “Publish What You Pay” (PWYP) rules for the extractive sector (oil, gas, mining) that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) had promulgated pursuant to a statutory mandate contained in Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Once President Trump signs the CRA joint resolution disapproving the PWYP rule, it is wiped off the books. Professor Bonnie Palifka’s post last week explained some of the reasons why PWYP rules are so important to fighting corruption in the extractive sector, and why this repeal is the first sign that the new administration, and the Republican-controlled Congress, threaten to undermine U.S. anticorruption efforts and leadership. (For another very good analysis along similar lines, see here.) What I want to do in this post is to consider a somewhat more specific question: What are the implications of the CRA repeal of the SEC rule for the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act’s PWYP mandate going forward?

This turns out to be a tricky legal question, involving some unexplored and untested issues concerning the relationship between the Dodd-Frank Act, the implementing regulations, and the CRA. Let me start with a quick summary of the key legal provisions, keeping this as non-technical as possible: Continue reading

Why the Repeal of the U.S. Publish-What-You-Pay Rule Is a Major Setback for Combating Corruption in the Extractive Sector

Bonnie J. Palifka, Assistant Professor of Economics at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) contributes today’s guest post:

Last Friday, following the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate voted to repeal a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation that required oil, gas, and minerals companies to make public (on interactive websites) their payments to foreign governments, including taxes, royalties, and “other” payments. The rule was mandated by Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but had only been finalized last year. President Trump’s expected signature of the congressional resolution repealing the rule will represent a major blow to anticorruption efforts, and a demonstration of just how little corruption matters to his administration and to Congressional Republicans.

The extractive industry had lobbied against this rule, arguing that having to report such payments is costly to firms and puts them at an international disadvantage. Some commentators have supported their efforts, arguing, for example, that the Section 1504 rules are unnecessary because the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) already prohibits firms under SEC jurisdiction—including extractive industry firms—from paying bribes abroad. This argument misses the mark: The extractive sector poses especially acute and distinctive corruption risks, which the FCPA alone is unlikely to remedy if not accompanied by greater transparency. Continue reading

The Impending Repeal of the U.S. “Publish What You Pay” Rules for Extractive Industries

As many readers of this blog are likely aware, the U.S. Congress is poised to invoke a statute called the “Congressional Review Act” to override the rules that the Securities and Exchange Commission promulgated last year to implement a provision of the Dodd-Frank Act (Section 1504) that required companies in the extractive industries (oil, gas, and mining) to publicly disclose the amounts that they pay to foreign governments in connection with projects abroad. (A timeline of the legislation and its implementing regs is here.)

The vote is scheduled for this coming Monday. Like many in the anticorruption community, I think eliminating the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) regs would be a bad idea. Alas, I don’t have time to write up a substantive discussion of the issue before the Monday vote. Fortunately, there are already a fair number of discussions of the issue elsewhere; for example, Jodi Vitori of Global Witness, who previously served as an intelligence officer in the Air Force, has a succinct explanation of why eliminating these PWYP rules would be bad for U.S. national security here.

While I usually don’t use this blog to engage in direct activism/advocacy, in this case I wanted to reach out to those GAB readers who are based in the U.S., particularly those whose representatives are Republicans, and encourage you to call your House Representative and Senator to express your opposition to the invalidation of the rules implementing Section 1504. (If you’re not sure who your House Representative is, you can find that here, and you can find a list of contact information here. Senate contact information is here.)

Guest Post: The Long, Long Road from Talking Transparency to Curbing Corruption in Mauritania

GAB is delighted to welcome back Till Bruckner, an international development expert who recently spent six months living Mauritania, and contributes the following guest post based on his experience there:

What do fish and iron have in common? Answer: Mauritania, a largely desert country of less than four million people in north-western Africa, is immensely rich in both. At the same time, most Mauritanians are poor. And one of the biggest reasons is corruption and misgovernance.

Consider first fishing. Although Mauritania has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds, its marine wealth is carried away by foreign ships whose owners often bribe senior government figures to obtain fishing permits and take their catch straight to Europe or Asia. As a result, the country has failed to develop a significant fishing industry, or domestic fish processing industry, of its own, and a fishing industry that boasts an annual catch of half a million tons generates a mere 40,000 jobs inside Mauritania. Yet to the south, Senegal translates a catch of similar size into at least 130,000 jobs, while to the north, Morocco has turned its million-ton-a-year catch into a massive export industry whose turnover is projected to reach two billion dollars by the end of this decade.

Inland, deep in the Sahara, some mountains contain more metal than rock, consisting of up to 75% iron, one of the highest concentrations in the world. Mauritania nationalized its iron mines in 1974, creating the state-owned monopoly company SNIM. Its workers blast the slopes to rubble, and conveyor belts transport the rubble into waiting railway waggons. The longest train in the world then chugs its way across 700 kilometres of desert, loads its cargo onto giant foreign freighters—and neither the ore nor most of the money paid for it are ever seen again. The looting dynamics in Mauritania’s mining sector are illustrated by the stark contrast between Zouerate, the town in the Sahara where the iron is mined—which looks like a dystopian hellhole straight out of a Mad Max film—and the rich suburbs of the capital city of Nouakchott (which produces virtually nothing), where giant villas rise out of the sand, and oversized SUVs cruise the streets. And in Nouakchott itself, in the poor suburbs, families living five to a windowless room have to pay for their drinking water by the barrel.

The preferred prescription in a situation like this (from the usual suspects: development professionals, anticorruption activists, etc.) is a combination of transparency, accountability, and civil society monitoring. But Mauritania is actually doing well on those dimensions. 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

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