How can Civil Society Monitor Lebanon's Petroleum?
At a conference marking Lebanon Petroleum Day titled “Unlocking Opportunities” on 22 October 2014, representatives of government ministries, non-governmental organizations, and members of civil society gathered to discuss the future of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector. Progress on the development of onshore petroleum resources, offshore petroleum resources, and environmental considerations were all on the day-long agenda.
The conference’s final panel discussion focused on transparency and good governance in oil and gas sectors and highlighted the following key points:
- Transparency is essential for ensuring that Lebanon’s oil and gas reserves do not become a “resource curse” but the public must also become engaged in using such information.
- Civil Society Organizations (CSO) should be at the heart of efforts to prevent the government from having exclusive control over the sector and combating mismanagement and corruption.
- In order for CSOs to successfully conduct oversight, clear goals must be defined, research must be conducted to ensure a comprehensive understanding of relevant issues, effective partnerships must be fostered, and small victories must be recognized.
- There is more than one way to engage in oversight of the oil and gas sector, including through collaborative and confrontational interactions with government and industry.
- There are courses of action other than incorporating the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which can promote sound oversight of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector such as domestic legislation dictating how petroleum revenues are allocated.
The session featured presentations by UNDP representative Joseph D’Cruz; Diana Kaissy, MENA Coordinator of Publish What You Pay; and Francisco Cravioto, a researcher at Fundar, a watchdog and policy center in Mexico. Each offered their thoughts on transparency and good governance in national petroleum industries based on their professional experiences and later responded to questions asked by the audience during a discussion moderated by Sami Atallah, the executive director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.
Joseph D’Cruz spoke on optimizing corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits and the process by which the UNDP works with CSOs on oil and gas issues. In the case of Lebanon, D’Cruz stated that work is underway for a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed between the UNDP and the Lebanese Petroleum Association on how CSR projects are implemented. D’Cruz highlighted how information sharing between civil society and industry can help companies decide how to direct CSR initiatives. D’Cruz also acknowledged that CSR initiatives often are undertaken by industries as part of a public relations campaign but added that CSR projects can produce positive results for both industry and communities in which those industries operate.
Diana Kaissy stressed that while EITI can be key to ensuring transparency in national petroleum sectors, of greater importance is raising awareness so the public can be certain that petroleum revenues are collected and spent effectively, and engage with the government on policy-making. To highlight this point Kaissy referenced the case of Nigeria, where CSOs determined that the government was not collecting its full share of taxes from oil companies, and subsequently petitioned and pressured the government to collect $589 million in additional revenues. She argued that this example is one of many that demonstrates why EITI should be part of a more comprehensive regime to enforce strict oversight of oil and gas sectors.
The last panel member to speak was Francisco Cravioto, who focused on two methods of engagement with government in the fields of extractive industries: Collaborative and confrontational. Cravioto used EITI as an example of collaborative action, in which members of the government and civil society work together to formulate and implement policy. The campaign in Mexico against the natural gas extraction method known as fracking was offered as an example of confrontational engagement, in which Fundar and other organizations used national media and direct engagement with local communities to pressure the government into acknowledging concerns associated with fracking.
Additional points were raised about public engagement in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector and how it might be affected by forthcoming legislation regulating petroleum extraction. To highlight this point, the Butros draft parliamentary election law was cited as an example of a complicated item of legislation, which many public figures and lawmakers struggled to comprehensively explain and critique based on its technical nature and breadth. Recognizing that laws governing the petroleum sector would likely be both lengthy and technical as well, panel members stressed the importance of CSOs and research, and stated that CSOs will be instrumental in helping the public understand and assess key aspects of government policy on oil and gas.
Overall, the assembled experts generally offered a positive assessment of Lebanon’s oil and gas sector and stressed that the level of public engagement should be assessed in light of the fact that Lebanon’s oil and gas industry is in its early stages. It was also stated that unlike what is often observed in countries with nascent petroleum sectors, Lebanon already has a vibrant civil society, which has the potential to become further engaged in oversight of the sector.