MPs Tackle Post-Arab Spring Natural Resource Oversight

At RWI's workshop on lawmaking and oversight of oil, gas and minerals for members of parliament (MPs) from the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, information-sharing between attendees was central. In countries such as Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the majority of MPs are new to legislative and oversight work and face the common challenge of how to be effectively engaged in their countries’ political reconstruction and reform. They are willing to champion reforms but are also keenly aware that they lack the technical know-how, especially in relation to extractives. But they also know this is a historic opportunity for parliaments to have an impact. The workshop provided newer MPs with the opportunity to learn from their more seasoned peers in the region.

Among participants were champions of transparency, such as Yemen’s Ali Ashal, known for putting an end to suspicious business deals between the former regime and oil companies, and surviving an assassination attempt. New parliamentarians who arrived after the wave of Arab uprisings included 26-year old Fouad Themeur from the Tunisian Constituent Assembly. Themeur carefully listened to the debates, saying: “I want to learn as much as I can from RWI and from other colleagues, I want to use this knowledge to improve the performance of my duties.”

Members of parliament led presentations that highlighted key aspects of the oil, gas and mining industries and explored the role and level of engagement of MPs in oversight and lawmaking. It quickly became clear that countries in the MENA region face similar challenges: natural resources previously controlled by autocratic heads of states, contracts rarely scrutinized by parliaments, insufficient or inexistent access to information and murky revenue flows.

Despite reforms, MP Ashal remarked the fight for parliamentary oversight continues: “We are part of the democratic d├ęcor in the Arab countries.” Libya’s Energy Committee Head, Dr. Soliman Gajam, added “We need to gather all the legal documents, information and legislations to start understanding how the late Ghaddafi was running the resources in the country, where the money was going.”

Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans stressed the need to restructure and reconstruct the entire political system. All three countries are drafting new constitutions, and eager to embark on a new governance phase. But how to begin? MPs' questions ranged from international standards governing the oil, gas and mining sectors, to the revision of outdated legislation and improvement of the overall governance of natural resources.

Yemenis and Moroccans from opposition parties, many of them fierce critics of former governments, stressed that reforms, albeit slow, are underway. And indeed, the first signs of positive change came from Yemen earlier this year, when parliament passed an access to information law that had been on hold for four years. Moroccan MPs are hoping to pass a similar law, and they believe their greatest achievement will be to develop a mining law to manage the sector. “We depend greatly on natural resources and we don’t have a mining law to regulate this sector, which is something unacceptable and our parliament is working to do something about that,” said Moroccan MP Abdallah Bouanou.

This workshop provided opportunities for MPs to exchange knowledge and experience. During one group working session, the Libyan delegation discussed their views on Libya’s new constitution. “We see it as a guiding document, that does not need to go into details”, said MP Moussa Saleh. ”Do not fall into the trap as we did in Iraq”, cautioned MP Susan Saed, referring to that country's inability to pass an oil law due to loosely written clauses in the constitution that have created confusion on how to govern the country.

There are many challenges facing these MPs' countries, ranging from lack of security to political struggle between emerging forces and movements, which might hinder the huge legislative work these parliamentarians face. As they are the elected body responsible for forging the new structures of their countries, they realize they need to seize the moment to build a better future.

Laury Haytayan is RWI MENA Senior Associate.

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