Trump administration expected to back away from transparency, speaker asserts

The Trump administration appears ready to retreat from its predecessors’ financial transparency commitments at a time when a strong US effort looks more essential than ever, a speaker asserted during an Aug. 8 discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Trump administration appears ready to retreat from its predecessors’ financial transparency commitments at a time when a strong US effort looks more essential than ever, a speaker asserted during an Aug. 8 discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“It’s important to say out loud at this point that this administration, unlike its Republican predecessors, is committed to pulling the plug on any programs that promote transparency,” said Steve Coll, dean of Columbia University’s Journalism School and author of “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.”

“It’s a general repudiation of what previous administrations have done,” said Coll, who subsequently recommended that US policymakers adopt a comprehensive approach to fostering financial transparency on as many levels as possible to battle corrupt foreign government officials.

Other parts of the US government seem intent on reversing hard-won financial transparency gains, another speaker declared. “Disclosure alone isn’t enough,” said Simon Taylor, a cofounding director of the London-based Global Witness anticorruption organization.

“Since the Dodd-Frank law was passed in 2010, we’ve seen excuses from the petroleum industry about why it wouldn’t work,” Taylor said. “Are the companies concerned their involvement in questionable deals will embarrass them in front of their shareholders, or do they simply want to see this system continue?”

Taylor said he considers the 115th Congress’s passage of a Congressional Review Act resolution repealing Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection earlier this year “the most shameful thing that’s happened in this country recently (OGJ Online, Feb. 3, 2017).”

Taylor said, “The arguments that were used to repeal this important provision were the same ones that didn’t stand up when the law was passed. Unless we make people accountable when they are responsible for these activities, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Two US multinational oil companies, ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., have been hesitant to participate in the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in the meantime, Taylor added.

‘Every 200,000 b/d counted’

Coll noted that publicly traded oil multinationals first entered foreign countries where it was difficult to operate because they were running out of “easy oil” before unconventional exploration, production, and development blossomed beginning in 2008. “Every 200,000 b/d counted back them. It’s still a problem today to some degree,” he said.

“Coming from a society where a key part of the government operates as a criminal enterprise, it’s not surprising that 200,000 b/d of production can disappear,” said a third speaker, Olarenwaju Suraju, a Nigerian anticorruption and environmental activist who chairs that country’s Civil Society Network Against Corruption.

“The conspiracy includes other forces such as banks and, in some cases, national embassies,” Suraju said. “It extends even to production meters that are owned, maintained, and read by the oil companies. The consequences extend from migration issues in Africa to immigration concerns in the US.”

Sarah Chayes, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program who moderated the discussion, said consequences of such rampant corruption in Nigeria even may be driving many people there into the terrorist group Boko Harum’s arms.

Coll said, “Oil triggers this kind of corruption because its global market is so liquid. This makes it easy to move the commodity without transparency and accountability. There’s a kind of disconnect between the oil itself and the actions.”

Suraju estimated that about $12 billion in oil transactions are not reported now in Nigeria despite recent government reform efforts. “Citizens are starting to connect a country’s reputation to companies which have headquarters there, which could have consequences none of us want,” he warned.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in General Interest