This, as your kindergarten teacher would have said, is a “teachable moment.” And I do mean “moment” since it isn’t very often that indignant Westerners collectively turn their full attention to Africa. By now, anyone with an Internet connection knows the story of Cecil the lion. He was lured out and hunted down for a large fee by the most hated dentist on Earth, Walter Palmer. I’m not going to go into what a crappy and sadistic human being Palmer is, nor am I going to say much about the two men (one opportunistic and callous, the other not living up to his name, which is “Honest”) who enabled this unnecessary killing of a beloved lion. Much like Part I of my article about Isabel dos Santos, the real story here is about the country. In this case, it’s Angola’s neighbor to the east, Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, like much of Africa, suffers from a “resource curse,” although it hasn’t been exploited to the insane levels that Angola thanks mostly to arbitrary and ineffective economic policies by its president, Robert Mugabe. Angola’s well-oiled (excuse the pun) “gravy train” runs primarily on petroleum. Zimbabwe’s “curses” are diamonds, platinum, copper, gold, and chrome.
There are lots of other natural resources in Africa which may or may not lend themselves to greed and wrongdoing, but all roads lead to corruption when democratic processes and transparency cannot be allowed to flourish. In the case of Zimbabwe, we are talking about a country which ranks 172 out of 187 on the United Nation’s Human Development Index (the higher the number, the worse the conditions). Seventy-two percent of its people live below the poverty line, with nearly 2 million people facing acute hunger each day. With approximately half of export earnings being derived from the extractive sector and little to no reporting (just like in Angola) of how much is coming in and out, in terms of money and resources, the desperation of a civilian population cannot be measured by any metric I can imagine.
Would Cecil have had a bounty out on his head had the Zimbabwean economy been stronger? I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that when you meld an atmosphere of institutionalized corruption with palpable civilian desperation and then mix in ruthless, cold-hearted crooks like the Dos Santos kleptocracy in Angola or the inept and senile Robert Mugabe Presidency in Zimbabwe, the results aren’t ever pretty. And while it’s easy to sit at a Pottery barn table, working on an Apple MacBook computer in an air conditioned dining room and say that lions should be protected at all costs, or that it’s complete madness to save up enough to buy a splash of gasoline to swish around your mouth to alleviate the pain of rotting teeth, it’s not really fair. How many of us have truly been in such dire straights as our fellow man have been, and are, in Africa?
I was going to do a three part story solely on Isabel dos Santos and her family’s audacious corruption and looting of Angola’s resources and wealth, but I’m going to cut to the chase so I can incorporate Zimbabwe and poor Cecil. Its at the intersection of Abject Poverty Road and The Blatant Disregard for All Forms of Life Superhighway that you can find the current villain who is [drumroll please…] the American Petroleum Institute (API). What? Were you expecting Adolf Hitler resurrected from the dead or something? Is API not dastardly enough for you? They should be.
The American Petroleum Institute is the largest oil and gas lobbying association in the United States, representing over 400 corporations involved in the petroleum industry. Their CEO is Jack Gerard. This industry has institutionalized and perpetrated a longstanding “bottleneck” of non-transparent accounting practices which it deliberately created to hide dodgy expenditures. This cloak of secrecy, which should have been lifted in 2010 with passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill, has choked the life out of not only Cecil the lion, but also huge swaths of Africa. And for the past five years, the American Petroleum Institute, led by attorney Eugene Scalia (yes, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dirtbag son) has done everything in its power to keep the curtain “closed.” It all relates to a seemingly obscure section (1504) that is summarized like this:
API, along with lobbyists, US Chamber of Commerce and a coterie of other like-minded characters have been suing the daylights out of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) et al in order to kill Section 1504 for the past five years. I have read hundreds of pages of their litigious drivel I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that chip-off-the-block Scalia and his partners in crime are just making shit up at this point. It borders on schoolyard foot-stomping silliness at times, which would be funny if lives weren’t being lost because of it (including Cecil the lion) thanks to the continued wholesale looting of Africa’s natural resource revenues by its government officials.
All that has to be done by oil, gas and mining corporations for Section 1504 compliance, and which would go a VERY long way to force corrupt governments to accurately report revenues, is for US-registered corporations to list the payments they’ve made related to each PROJECT (this is an important word) to developing countries. That is ALL. Entirely. That’s it. That’s the whole enchilada. I’ll do you all a favor by culling the herd of crap I’ve read to tell you that all the whining and simpering and threatening and courtroom drama and millions of dollars of taxpayer money to fight API and the Chamber of Commerce on this stuff boils down to THAT. Only THAT. Simple accounting.
So, for corporations that have a listing on an American stock exchange (that’s where the SEC comes in) ALL THEY HAVE TO DO, in addition to the thousands and thousands of pages of documents they already regularly file in the US is to itemize, by project, what money they dole out to
corrupt governments, err, foreign governments, for the right to rape and pillage extract their natural resources. This type of free flow of money, which quite often ends up paid out as bribes and secret payoffs has been going on forever. Through prior legislation like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and, more recently, this Section 1504 of Dodd Frank, an itemization would simply be like this (I’m not even kidding. It’s literally this simple)…and I’m going to use one of ExxonMobil’s real Angolan projects as an example because a) I hate them, and b) they have been particularly freaking out and aggressive in opposition to Section 1504. I’m simplifying it somewhat, but not much:
Kizomba Satellites Phase 2 (Block 15) Project.
1st quarter 2015 payments to Sonangol Corporation, Angola:
Payment for permission to explore: $50 million USD
Bonus for permission to explore: $50 million USD
Permit expenses: $50 million USD
Facility expenses: $50 million USD
In-country staff expense: $10 million USD
Instead of such a breakdown, by project and country, oil, gas and mining industries want it to continue to report expenses which look something like this:
Exploratory research and drilling, 1st Quarter 2015: $210 million USD
Or something along those lines. On a project-level, the only thing that needs to be itemized is what they paid out and to whom. It’s not like they have to write it out in Rex Tillerson’s blood or anything (but that would be nice). And keep in mind that corporations have tons of paperwork anyway. We are talking about the wealthiest companies on Earth. Armies of lawyers and accounting firms. For them, this is nothing. Nada. Nil. My KIDS could do it on an Excel spreadsheet. Section 1504 of Dodd Frank DOES NOT require any single thing other than reporting what they spent, which they have to do anyway as a member of any stock exchange outside the US. And keep in mind that many of these corporations, whether they are American or Norwegian or whatever, have to report these things already as members of other, foreign stock exchanges. It’s just the itemized reporting BY PROJECT, by extracting industries, like ExxonMobil or BP, for example, which must file HERE in America that have been up in the SEC’s grill, stalling Section 1504 for five years. Continuing the fiscal strangulation of an entire continent. I’m not even exaggerating.
Does this seem like an extreme reaction by API and the oil and gas industry to a simple accounting practice? Wouldn’t it be a relative “no brainer” if countless human lives are going to be literally not figuratively, saved just by reporting what money is paid out to foreign governments that this would be A GOOD THING? It’s not like it would cost ExxonMobil or any of them ONE RED CENT to do any of it. And a lot of “good” would come of it because countless non-governmental organizations like Oxfam, Publish What You Pay, the Open Society Foundations, Global Witness, etc., will be the ones doing the heavy lifting and actual sifting through the reports provided online and then comparing them, for example, to funds Angola’s
corrupt government reports they’ve receive from the extractive industry. It’s not like BP’s Board of Directors has to sit down and compare lists while working a huge abacus or something. So what exactly is going on here?
This was totally blowing my mind, to be honest. In reading the legal diarrhea API was churning out, LITERALLY garbage like this which is cherry picking and being ridiculous:
or crap like this:
Or this snippet. “Disaggregation” is a bad word for API. It means project level reporting in detail. They want to lump EVERYTHING together and make it confidential. In other words, put it in a format that is totally useless:
Or how about this. Keep in mind that corrupt governments TRY to disallow such reporting of detailed payments, right? Duh:
Or something like this “helpful” API suggestion. Again, they want to “aggregate” everything. “Other country?” Who is that going to help? Not the people of any specific country who need and deserve to know what money is coming in:
Or this kind of thing, which they go into in nauseating detail…trying to keep Section 1504 reporting out of any type of public disclosure (for more of this drivel, here is a link to one such comment from API):
And all other sorts of utter nonsense about how such project-by-project reporting would CONFUSE and inconvenience shareholders (I am not making this up) who would have to USE THEIR ACTUAL EYES AND BRAINS TO READ IT….oh my god. It’s beyond stupid. It defies explanation. All the while, millions and millions, perhaps billions, of innocent humans, not to mention creatures such as Cecil, are dying or being sold off like houseplants because these corrupt governments, in an unholy alliance with an already thoroughly corrupt industry, have utterly screwed the people of Africa out of hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars of the citizen’s money. For decades, if not more. And I’m not even entering the “country code” of environmental damage they’ve collectively done.
So. Hmm. What is the “jig” that cannot be “up?” I will tell you without going too far into it. Perhaps that will be for another day. The “thing” that they are so freaking out about is the revealing of all that money that has been offshored, used to fund arms sales, drugs, murders, and the most lavishly-rich lifestyles you can imagine. These riches, which belong to the people of Africa, have methodically been diverted to generals, corrupt government officials, and cold-hearted bitch daughters like Isabel dos Santos along with the Angolan President’s other parasitic spawn.
What happens when the people of Africa, who definitely outnumber the crooks who methodically starve and kill off their own people, find out that a trillion or so bucks of their own rightful money has vanished, instead of providing even the most basic 19th century-level healthcare and government services to their families? For corrupt, bloated, and/or inept governments, it means the “R” word, which is revolution. For the corporations here in the US who are fighting tooth and nail to kill Section 1504, or, if they can’t kill it, to water it down so that there is NO project itemization, rendering it useless, and no way to tell where the money has gone, it means probably a shareholder revolt, possible FCPA indictments, whatever. I can only hope it means some sort of prison sentences, but I’m not holding my breath.
There is so much more to this story. I’m talking banking fraud and money laundering and Ponzi schemes that make Bernie Madoff’s con look like amateur hour. The straw that broke MY camel’s back was Angola’s recent announcement that SINCE oil prices have gone down the toilet this year, the state owned (or, more accurately, the Dos Santos piggy bank) oil corporation, Sonangol, is going to be FORCED into some sort of technical bankruptcy and they are going to have to CUT SOCIAL SPENDING even further. What? I’m scared for Angola, a nation with a GDP of $85 billion dollars, a life expectancy of only 50 years, and one of the worst infant mortality rates on Earth. How much more can these people TAKE? When simple, painless accounting reform slated for adoption here in the US five years ago to help people in Angola, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, etc. untangle the mess of why they’re so damn poor gets shut down by API, that’s shameful. And then, for Angolan leaders to say that thanks to their rapacious greed, along with American avarice in fracking everything they can get their hands on, driving oil prices down, there will be even MORE suffering, well, that does it for me. That encapsulates the viciousness and just general meanness of the worst aspects of humanity which I have seen throughout the fossil fuel industry. The fucking bottom of the barrel of our species.
What’s it going to take, other than the biggest plunger in the universe, to clear the excrement of corruption plugging up the “proverbial pipes” leading to a decent life in the ancestral homeland of every one of us on this planet? I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.