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Experts Discuss Extractive Industry Contracts

More than 3 billion people live in countries rich in natural resources, but half of those remain poor, prompting a question. Why are some countries rich and others poor?

This question and others were discussed in Washington recently, at an international conference on the extractive industries, sponsored by Oxfam America, where experts from civic organizations, extractive industries, universities and others met to discuss the essence of contracts between governments and the extractive industry.

Solutions for natural resource problems include bringing more information to the public, especially in how much money a company pays the government to exploit resources, said Ian Gary, a senior policy adviser for Oxfam America.

A contract can describe the amount of money the government gets, the work plan of the company and other obligations in terms of social development. Too often, he said, the contracts are kept secret.

“The importance of this conference is that it’s the first time that the international community of practitioners, experts and civil society organizations have sat in the same room to discuss how we can bring more information to the public about contracts and how we can improve the situation on the grounds,” he said.

Mam Sambath, executive director of Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, who participated in the September conference, said his participation and that of others constituted important capacity building.

“Through this conference, experts shared their experiences in managing contracts between governments and companies in the countries they have been exploring and doing business in, in either oil, gas, or mines, either in Africa, Latin America or other countries in the world,” Mam Sambath said.

Lim Solin, East Asia program officer for Oxfam America, told VOA Khmer at the conference that the conference was a rare opportunity to bring experts together, even if they didn’t all agree.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the differences of opinion from other participants,” Lim Solin said. “For me, especially where I am coming from, Cambodia, I see that it’s a great opportunity for Oxfam America to host such a tripartite forum that brings together the public sector, private sector and civil society to come to a common place to discuss the issues, contracts and transparency. I hope that Oxfam America will be able to host this kind of international conference in Cambodia as well to ensure that this knowledge and experience can be shared with our friends and colleagues in Cambodia.”

On that day, U.S. bill, “Energy Security Through Transparency Act of 2009” was introduced to U.S. Senate and was happily welcomed by participants in the conference. The bill is expected to put more weight to the international efforts to improve the management of the natural resources in the world.