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24 February 2012

Let the truth about corruption be unearthed

Let the truth about corruption be unearthed

By Asha Kurien

"The mining company being here hasn't benefited us at all. We hear them working day and night, but we don't know what comes out of our community; it is taken away. They're not accountable to us."

These are the mournful words of Shego Tijan, the chief of Bonge village in Sierra Leone. Bauxite mining takes place around the clock in the outskirts of his village but he and his people are not recipients of its profit. They are but spectators of the lush forests around them being replaced by quarries.

This is merely one of the many stories showing that the transactions of oil, gas and mining companies with developing countries are riddled with secrecy and corruption. Global Financial Integrity estimated that corruption and tax evasion cost developing countries as much as $903 billion in 2009. The cost of corruption in Africa alone is anticipated to be $148 billion ever year, which accounts for a quarter of the continent's income.

UK based charities Tearfund, ONE, CAFOD and Christian Aid have come together to shed light on this issue, in a new campaign Unearth the Truth. They are putting pressure on the European government to bring into effect transparency laws that would force extractive companies to be open about their financial transactions.Bonge village, Sierra Leone, eclipsed by mine that has left little farmland

Earlier this month, representatives from Tearfund, ONE and CAFOD presented the newly appointed minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs Norman Lamb with a Valentine's Day card that carried the message - Love Truth - as part of their lobbying for the transparency law that Lamb and other EU ministers met to debate on 20 February.

Their message, alongside the letters that supporters of the campaign sent to Lamb seems to have had an impact as the minister advocated for 'the right level of detail' to be included in the transparency laws in order for them 'to be meaningful for civil society' in the speech he made in Brussels.
Although this is a positive move, Jonathan Spencer from Tearfund notes that "we need to keep up the pressure, especially through contacting our Members of European Parliament."

Significant features of the new laws yet to be approved:

  • Extractive companies report payments to governments on a country- and project-level basis ensuring that payment figures published are not rounded up to the nearest million but instead broken down into bite-sized chunks (for example units of £10,000). This would be meaningful and useful to communities seeking to hold their own local and national governments to account.
  • New transparency laws should apply to all countries and companies with no exemptions. If an exemption is granted this could encourage unscrupulous governments to enact laws that reduce transparency and start a 'race to the bottom'.

Exposed 2013 is another campaign that Christian organisations such as Micah Challenge and Salvation Army are involved in that raises awareness of corruption. The campaign aims to challenge churches, businesses and governments to be transparent and honest in their work and encourage Christians to join hands with the wider society in shedding light on corrupt practices.

According to Amanda Jackson from Micah Challenge, “We want Christians to realise that change is possible, that we can take a stand for integrity and we can bring hope.”

Go to www.tearfund.org/unearth to take join the Unearth the Truth campaign.
Visit www.micahchallenge.org/campaigns/exposed to learn more about Micah Challenge's Exposed 2013 movement.