Africa’s Resource Curse

Five years have passed without anything concrete being done to implement Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which was written (and passed by Congress) in order to make payments to foreign governments by oil, gas and mining corporations completely transparent. This seemingly innocuous bit of legislation, which is to be overseen by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), would be ridiculously easy for Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, etc., to abide by. Instead, it has been been fought tooth and nail by the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce.

And, as I have written here and here, Section 1504 is necessary because of corruption and wholesale looting of these funds by foreign governments, many of which are in Africa. With the help of multinational oil and gas companies, corrupt government officials and their conspirators have hidden and diverted billions, if not a trillion, petrodollars which are owed to the citizens of these resource-rich countries. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel and mining corporations fear being exposed to criminal prosecution for the assistance they’ve given to their foreign counterparts to hide and divert funds either to offshore and personal accounts or to buy weapons and wage internal conflicts. All of which has been made illegal in the US under laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Foreign governments who have essentially stolen this money from their countrymen are terrified of being publicly exposed for squandering their nation’s resource wealth. Such an uprising could very well ignite Arab Spring-levels of dissatisfaction with these governments.

Further amplifying the damage caused by the American Petroleum (API) Institute’s interference with Section 1504 implementation is the enormous wealth which has been lost forever due to the current glut of petroleum products on the world market. This has led to oil and gas prices plummeting to half of what they were just five years ago (from around $100/barrel to roughly $47/barrel).

For a partial timeline (which goes up to the point that the SEC lost in court to the American Petroleum Institute), please click this link. And for an example of how bad the “resource curse” has been in Chad (thanks entirely to “help” from Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil), please click here.

For a more complete and well-rounded perspective on Section 1504, I’ve chosen a few documents which illustrate how important this legislation is. These letters expand and “flesh out” the significance of one little rule which costs us nothing to implement, and yet is the difference between life and death for millions of people in Africa. I’ve marked them up for those who just want to skim them. These comment letters were all submitted to the SEC. You can click on any of them, framed below, if they appear too small on your device.

The first one is from the American Petroleum Institute. They have written tons of letters, participated in virtually all the meetings in Washington, inserted themselves into the discussion wherever and whenever possible, but their lawsuit is too large to insert here. Below is an example of their “argument.” Keep in mind that it is because of THEIR lawsuit, led by attorney Eugene Scalia (Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s son) against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that Section 1504 has been stalled for the past five years, resulting in billions and billions of dollars in lost revenues from oil and gas companies for the people of Africa:

Here is comment letter from the Libyan Transparency Association:

Here is a comment letter from EG Justice (Equatorial Guinea):

Here is a comment letter from the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers:

Here is one from a Burmese group called Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization:

Here is one from Publish What You Pay Indonesia:

Here is one from US Senator Carl Levin in support of Section 1504:

Much like the public outrage over the tragic killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, the world can and will stand up against injustice. This is both the beauty, and the danger (to corrupt governments), of the Internet. With cooperation and coordination between the people of Africa and the Western world, made possible by modern communications, we can apply pressure on groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the SEC, shaming them into implementing Section 1504. Those of us who can SHOULD do right by our African brothers and sisters.