With its vast mineral wealth and extremely poor population, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been regarded as a poster child for how not to govern natural resources. But the situation is changing – thanks largely to the work of Congolese civil society.
The latest campaign aims to secure critical amendments to the legislation governing the country’s oil and mining sectors – amendments that will ensure a better deal for the Congo and particularly for local mining communities.
On Monday August 19th, representatives from the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) and its partner CERN, which is a technical body within the National Assembly of Bishops (CENCO) focusing on extractive issues, met with eight MPs in Kinshasa to push their case for substantial changes to both the draft oil law and the existing mining code.
And the vast majority of the amendments proposed by CERN and SARW concern the rights of local communities, which have routinely been ignored in the past.
In relation to the oil law, the two organisations, which have a mandate to represent Congolese civil society on these issues, called for wholesale changes to ensure that local communities benefit from the oil that is pumped out of their land. In particular, CERN and SARW urged the MPs to ensure that the following recommendations are included in the final law:
- Oil concessions should take into consideration the interests of local communities;
- 5 percent of the profits from oil sales should directly contribute to local development;
- 15 percent of royalties should go to affected communities;
- Environmental impact studies must involve consultation with – and secure the approval of – local communities;
- Relocated communities must be paid fair and timely compensation; and
- Communities must be enabled to undertake legal action if necessary to defend their interests.
Every one of these amendments would make a huge difference to local communities. If they were all to be implemented, they would radically transform the way that the oil industry does business in the Congo – and ensure that a significant portion of the proceeds from DRC’s oil finally starts to filter down to the people who are most affected by its exploitation.
Local communities are also the focus of some of the proposed amendments to Congo’s current mining code, including ensuring that local communities hold a 5 percent stake in the mining companies and establishing a local development fund to be financed with 0.3 percent of the net revenue from mining sales.
However, civil society’s calls for change in relation to the mining code go far beyond improving the lot of local communities. CERN and SARW also made it clear to the MPs that broader reforms were needed to ensure that mining benefited all Congolese rather than just a well-connected elite, including:
- Ending the current dual legal system (mining code and common law), which has seen mining companies given tax exemptions;
- Axing fuel and lubricant tax exemptions, which promote fraud and tax evasion;
- Strengthening environmental provisions and making them legally binding; and
- Introducing mandatory and binding principles of transparency.
Indeed, the lack of transparency is one of civil society’s biggest concerns and they have also demanded that the draft oil law incorporates articles to promote greater transparency since it is a critical component of better governance.
The MPs were impressed with the presentation and by civil society’s unified voice on the issues – and agreed to push for these changes to be made when the draft oil law and mining code come up for debate in parliament.
The parliamentarians also called for regular meetings with civil society groups since their expertise would be very helpful in the battles ahead.
And amending the two laws will be a struggle – but with civil society and community voices growing ever stronger, there is a real chance that progress will be made. And those changes to the oil and mining legislation will ensure that Congo’s natural resources will benefit more than just the well-connected few in future.