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December 03, 2014
O&G advocacy series: Build a Strong Coalition to Advocate for Sound Policy-Making

Fabio Velásquez from the National Forum for Colombia 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 currently underway in other countries. In an interview with LCPS, Fabio Velásquez, a program manager at the National Forum for Colombia, discussed public initiatives to oversee extractive industries in Colombia and how that could relate to similar efforts in Lebanon.

1. What was the impetus for establishing La Fundación Foro Nacional por Colombia and what did the original members of the organization specialize in?
Foro Nacional por Colombia was created in 1982 to bolster democracy in Colombia by encouraging citizen participation and strengthening social organizations, networks, and movements. Its original members were democratic intellectuals committed to Colombia, particularly to the poorer sectors of the population. Foro worked from the start on strengthening social movements and in the late 1980s it began working on issues of decentralization, governance, participatory planning, and state modernization. Then in the 1990s Foro introduced a program to promote a culture of democracy and human rights. Five years ago, Foro began to work on the field of extractive industries.

2. What is the specific nature of your work on extractive industries?
Initially we worked on establishing the Observatory of Extractive Industries in Colombia to provide information and analysis on industry developments in the country. The observatory has published three reports, the last of which was released on 30 October 2014 in Bogota. Our organization is engaged in a number of projects, which focus on fostering dialogue and agreements between different actors (municipal government, extractive companies, social organizations, and small miners) for the joint promotion of development in a territory (agreements for governance of a territory). Recently, Foro partnered with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and has spearheaded the inclusion of civil society organizations (CSO) in the initiative. It is currently one of the representatives of civil society in the EITI multi-stakeholder committee.      

3. Can you please tell us more about your organization’s overall strategy to monitor extractive industries? What techniques are you using? Do you focus on outreach or research?
Monitoring is done through the observatory, which produces an annual report, some thematic reports, newsletters, and conducts research on issues in the sector. To achieve that goal Foro analyzes documents and secondary information, and has developed a database with information from national and regional newspapers. It also conducts interviews with experts and other individuals related to topics covered in the annual report.
Reports released by the observatory focus on the following topics: Norms, institutional transformations, public policy, macroeconomic indicators, and the generation, distribution, use, and impact of revenue generated by the sector, as well as social conflicts related to the extractive sector. Consequently, we do research, but we also work on disclosure.

4. How well are you able to work and coordinate with other civil society organizations? To what extent have you been able to mobilize the public to push for transparency and accountability in extractive industries?
Many of Foro’s activities are carried out in partnership with other civil society organizations. In the case of the extractive sector, the best example is EITI. Since Foro began promoting this initiative in Colombia, it has worked with other social organizations, universities and, subsequently, journalists to form an action front aimed at prompting CSOs to take action. This has allowed us to have important influence over the sector. We achieved this using reports released by the observatory, but we also tried that with EITI. This has produced significant results, especially at the regional level. We believe, however, that much remains to be done to mobilize the public to push for transparency in extractive industries. It is not an easy task, but it is necessary to move forward on it.

5. How much have you been able to influence policy and what challenges have you faced in trying to influence policy? At what stage of policy-making does your organization have the most influence?
One of the most important targets of our work is influencing public policy. In the extractive sector, we tried in the past to influence the review of the code of mines. But this undertaking was not successful because in the past the government was not engaged in consulting with ethnic communities. We are currently working on several documents to influence the formulation of the National Development Plan, an important piece of government public policy. We are aiming to influence policy in a number of areas, including: Mining regulations, intercultural relations, previous consultation, and territorial organization.

6. How would you describe your working relationship with the government? Are they open to inquires made by Foro and how well do they follow up on recommendations made by your organization?
As I just mentioned, the government has not always been open to the influence of Foro and, in general, of civil society organizations. However, we have managed to open some doors for dialogue and believe that the current authorities in the extractive sector will be more open to the influence of social organizations in the future. This is what we have seen in the last three or four weeks concerning the formulation of the National Plan of Development.

7. Based on the lessons you have learned, what would be your advice to CSOs that are looking to monitor the oil and gas sector in Lebanon?
I would suggest the following:
- Create a permanent network of social organizations under a strong leadership. This network can discuss issues, support monitoring efforts, and generate proposals for the improvement of the management of the sector.
- Have access to up-to-date, relevant, and reliable information
- Be consistent in your relationship with governmental entities while demonstrating a constructive spirit regarding the formulation of public policies
- Communicate with companies and their leadership. It is very important to establish a dialogue between the state, industry, and civil society organizations
- Interact with other organizations at the international level to exchange experiences and learn lessons from them

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