O&G advocacy series: Opening Lines of Communication with Policymakers
Francisco Cravioto from the Extractive Industries Project at Mexico's Fundar speaks with LCPS about O&G
As part of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies’ ongoing effort to monitor Lebanon’s oil and gas sector, LCPS is inviting representatives of NGOs from across the world to speak about similar endeavors in other countries. While in Beirut for the conference “Unlocking Opportunities” on 22 October 2014, Mr. Francisco Cravioto, a researcher for the Extractive Industries Project at Fundar, sat down with LCPS to discuss public initiatives to oversee extractive industries in Mexico and how that could relate to similar efforts in Lebanon.
How would you describe the main goals of Fundar?
Fundar aims to promote the establishment of a governing system characterized by substantive democracy, which entails more engagement and participation from citizens and more accountability from government officials.
Fundar was founded in 1999; two years after the 70-year-long one-party rule of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) came to an end. Back then Fundar was conceived as an organization that could contribute to this democratic transition.
How are you able to influence policy in Mexico?
Our ability to influence policy depends on the issue we are dealing with. For instance, on some matters concerning extractive industries we have been collaborating with the government and legislators. We have been able to speak with government officials and legislators directly in charge of hydrocarbon extraction and mining extraction in Mexico.
However, when it comes to fracking, we have been more confrontational in our approach. This has included organizing communities at the local level and pressuring the government through the media.
So you see there is real communication but we still need to push to make some more noise, to pressure more for this agenda to move forward, especially in light of the fact that the government has invested so much in projects like fracking, meaning they cannot back down.
Would you say that you have been successful in raising awareness about extractive industries in Mexico?
Yes. We have been successful, particularly in the adoption of one of the most advanced transparency and access information laws worldwide. For civil society and journalists this law has made a huge difference. It allows individuals to solicit information from the government and has been key to much of the work that Fundar does. We must remember though that transparency is just one tool among a large set of tools that are necessary to be able to foster the growth of a real democratic and participatory system. So there must be another set of reforms that allow citizens to hold public officials accountable if they misbehave, are engaged in corruption, or are incompetent.
We have also been successful in changing public discourse in relation to fracking. Once we brought forward in Mexican media and to Mexican legislators the problems with this technique—especially the environmental and social impacts—both the federal governor and state governor had to address public concerns related to fracking.
In addition, Fundar has been able to work closely with local communities by starting workshops, collaborating with other organizations in the region, and trying to generate long-term and engaged relationships with these communities so they can defend their territories.
How does your organization manage to stay ahead of the curve? Is that heavily reliant on research?
Fundar is an evidence-based advocacy organization among many other things. We must have the evidence to bring forward a strong argument to the government. When it comes to the extractive industries we have done our research, specifically in terms of fracking, to stay aware of developments in the field and arguments used by the government and industries in the sector. Now, Fundar is researching the arguments that have been used in other countries so that we can stay one step ahead of them.
What organizations have you been able to partner with and how integral has the involvement of other NGOs and civil society organizations been to Fundar’s efforts?
We have conducted extensive research on water issues, extractive issues, and human rights issues with grassroots organizations, legal defense organizations, academics, media-based organizations, social media, independent media, youth movements, and social movements. Depending on the issue, wherever there is a minimum consensus on what we need to push forward, we recognize the importance of partnerships and will work with other organizations to raise awareness about a pressing issue.
Taking into consideration the case of Mexico, where the government in the 1980s lifted many taxes on industry and instead gathered much of its revenue from oil sales, what would be your advice to concerned citizens in countries seeking to extract mineral resources? How should they monitor government spending of oil revenues?
I would say, don’t overexploit the resource as this will have environmental and social impacts. Probably most of the wealth will be consumed in the very short term but you have to build for the future to best capitalize on a resource. While many oil-producing countries have not successfully been able to do this, take Singapore as an example of a country with a forward-thinking strategy. It became a net oil importer in the 1960s but also supported industries which produced petroleum-based products, in short, value added industries. Learning from such successful cases, Lebanon must focus on preparing for the post-oil and gas era by building sustainable industries.