NEW YORK—The Open Society Institute, Norway, and the Hewlett Foundation today join forces to launch the Revenue Watch Institute, a major initiative to tackle corruption in states rich in natural resources.
Some two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in abject poverty in countries endowed with abundant resources but often devastated by conflict and corrupt governance. Angola exemplifies this phenomenon, known as the “resource curse.” The country was torn apart by a 27-year civil war funded primarily by oil and diamonds with more than $1 billion in oil revenues disappearing each year, according to an International Monetary Fund audit.
George Soros, OSI’s chair and founder, announced his gift of $4.5 million to develop better oversight of resource revenues so that citizens can benefit from their countries' natural wealth. In collaboration with OSI, Erik Solheim, the Minister for International Development, said that Norway will give $3 million and Paul Brest, President of the Hewlett Foundation, said Hewlett will contribute $1.5 million to the new RWI.
“Today we are witnessing the rapid coalescing of a global movement to promote transparency and accountability in the extractive industries of oil, gas, and mining,” said RWI’s new Director, Karin Lissakers.
“Around the world, there is rising public awareness of the impact these industries have on governance, human development, the economy and the environment: progress can be achieved if the extractive sector can be opened to public and international scrutiny,” added Lissakers, who is also the former US Executive Director to the IMF.
OSI and Hewlett's support for RWI reflects their commitment to strengthening democratic accountability. RWI aims to eradicate the resource curse by equipping people with the information, training, networks, and funding that they need to become more effective monitors of government revenues and expenditures.
Norway's backing is part of intensified efforts in recent years to use the country's oil expertise to advise similarly oil-rich, yet poorly managed states that want to distribute more of their revenues to their citizens. A year ago Norway launched the Oil for Development Initiative, which will allocate an additional US $40 million over the next five years for the transfer of oil and gas management expertise. Oslo on October 16-17 will also host the third plenary conference of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.
Revenue Watch in 2002 began as an OSI program focusing on the newly independent Caspian oil producers, then expanded to other regions. Its success in driving an international transparency movement and in building national grass-roots movements in many states heavily dependent on natural resources prompted OSI and other interested donors to turn the program into a full-fledged institute.
RWI presently supports and works with partners and affiliates with operating programs in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, and Sao Tome and Principe. Priority countries where projects are currently in the development stages include Angola, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Libya, Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Sudan, East Timor, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen.