Mali is Africa’s third biggest gold producer but one of the world’s poorest countries.
Addressing the paradox of the gap between the wealth generated by the growing production of gold and other minerals such as bauxite, and the extreme poverty in which almost half of our population lives, is a major challenge.
At the end of 2021, a major breakthrough came in this struggle.
Transparency, citizen participation and rooting out corruption are key to reducing the extreme poverty in Mali. They will also allow the benefits of Mali’s abundant mineral wealth to be shared among the population.
On 23 December 2021, the publication of mining contracts was made mandatory by the Malian steering committee of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the global standard for good governance in oil, gas and mineral resources.
The committee validated a publication plan that will allow the disclosure of several hundred ongoing exploration and exploitation contracts directly on the EITI-Mali website.
This decision is a giant step forward and a victory for Malian civil society, and in particular the Publish What You Pay Coalition of Mali (PWYP-Mali), which has always fought for the publication of extractive contracts.
In 2019, after pressure from PWYP-Mali and its partners, the country enacted a new Mining Code, which guarantees the mandatory publication of contracts.
However, the effect was very limited: only 12 mining contracts were accessible on the Ministry of Mines’ website, often without their annexes and amendments.
On January 1 2021, extractive contract disclosure became mandatory for the 55 EITI member countries, including Mali. Civil society took the opportunity to increase pressure on the country to comply with this new standard. PWYP-Mali published a report proving that there were no legal obstacles to implementing contract disclosure, thereby removing any possibility of opposition.
Obtaining an EITI scheme for the disclosure of mining contracts was the last step to achieve this, and it is now done since 23 December.
Transparency as a source of social healing in Mali
In Mali the situation surrounding natural resource exploitation is tense.
In this gold monoculture country, twelve companies are active alongside a multitude of artisanal mining sites. The mining sector is a key pillar of the Malian economy, and accounts for a quarter of the annual state budget.
Given the financial windfall from mining and the high risk of corruption, transparency, access to information and unhindered citizen participation are essential.
In recent months, tensions have been focused on the state takeover and potential reopening of the Yatela mine in the Kayes region, which was closed by its former operators in 2013 for technical reasons.
Civil society is concerned about the potential negative impacts of this reopening, both on the environment and on surrounding communities. Mandatory contract disclosure could allow us to have access to the mine’s transfer contract, in order to understand the issues, projections and potential risks.
Contract disclosure is essential to ensure true citizen oversight, so that populations can understand the value of resources and advocate for revenues to be used for the benefit of communities, such as funding for basic social services including health care, education and infrastructure.
It is also essential for people to be able to say an informed ‘no’ to projects that could destroy their environments, ecosystems, livelihoods and social balance.
Malians want only one thing at the moment: change. Transparent contracts should help to calm the social climate around mining.
Towards a global standard
Where do we stand globally, one year after the EITI contract disclosure standard came into force?
In the absence of published data from the Initiative, it is difficult to know how many countries are already implementing it. We know that only about 30 countries have legislation in place that makes disclosing extractive contracts mandatory. While many countries have officially disclosed at least one contract, the number of countries that have published them all is still low.
This is despite pressure for them to do so coming from different directions.
Meanwhile dozens of civil society organisations in PWYP coalitions around the world, have united in the global campaign, #DiscloseTheDeal.
In Mali, the mandatory publication of mining contracts would not have been possible without the concerted action of the national coalition members who, since 2015, have been analysing the extractive contracts they manage to access, denouncing their irregularities, and campaigning relentlessly to raise awareness among the authorities of the need to institutionalise contract publication.
Contract disclosure builds trust between individuals, governments and companies. It can reassure people that governments are entering into agreements that will benefit them, based on realistic projections, without threatening their rights and the environment. It can also boost investor confidence, reassuring them that contracts and licences are awarded fairly, and increasing the attractiveness of investing in a country.
It is time for the publication of contracts to become a real standard, adopted by all states, EITI members or not. The case of Mali should serve as an example to governments that are reluctant to make contracts public.
This article has first been published in Droit dans ses bottes.