Last chance to fix Congo’s flawed Oil Bill

Crude oil15 January 2014, London – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, has begun to debate a new oil bill which has been criticised by campaigners, MPs in Congo and donor governments.

Global Witness is extremely concerned that the weak provisions of the bill – which began being debated yesterday – would fail to prevent the widespread looting of state assets and oil-drilling in World Heritage Sites. We publish today the latest version of the law, from October, and our suggested text amendments (both in French).

“The latest version of the oil bill is a muddled document that would allow oil companies to operate in one of the world’s most volatile countries with little or no oversight,” said Nathaniel Dyer, Campaigner at Global Witness.

“The ultimate owners of oil rights would be secret under the proposed text and there is nothing to ensure the terms of oil deals are made public. The bill also opens the door to exploitation in precious ecosystems.”

There has been no public consultation on the text, which is being discussed in an extraordinary session of parliament that runs until 4 February. In September, Global Witness called for the passage of the oil law to be put on hold to allow time for public debate.

Senior political figures in Congo have repeatedly pledged to clean up the country’s notoriously corrupt mining and oil sectors. The new oil law should aim to prevent a repeat of scandals like those in the mining sector. Between 2010 and 2012 five secret deals in the country’s mining sector are estimated to have cost the Congolese state at least $1.36 billion – equivalent to almost twice the country’s annual health and education spending combined.

The International Monetary Fund has said in comments to the UK’sIndependent newspaper that for the Congolese oil sector, “it is important not to make the same mistakes made with the mining sector”.

Congolese MPs have submitted amendments to the bill to ensure that: oil contracts and the names of the ultimate owners of oil companies are published; oil rights are attributed through open tenders; and that a controversial article allowing drilling in Congo’s national parks and World Heritage Sites is deleted.

A UK-listed company, Soco International, is at the centre of an international controversy after having been granted rights to explore for oil in Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site that is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas.

“MPs in Congo have a final chance to win improvements in the oil bill over the next few days,” said Nathaniel Dyer. “Their decisions will help determine whether Congo’s oil wealth will help reduce poverty in the country or be siphoned off by elites.”

– Global Witness

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