Through the years, our work has taken us to Europe, Asia and South America. Next week, we’ll add Africa to the list when Project On Government Oversight investigator Mia Steinle travels to Ghana thanks to a Ford Foundation grant.
The trip ties in with work Steinle and POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian have being doing for much of the past year. The pair has been helping an effort led by the U.S. Department of Interior, and involving representatives of civil society and industry to bring the U.S. extractive industries (oil, gas, coal and hard rock mining, and renewables) into compliance with international transparency standards. Brian serves on the federal advisory committee that is drafting the plan and Steinle has provided research and analysis for the committee.
For POGO, the work intersects two areas that we’ve long been interested in—transparency and extractive industries.
Since the 1990’s, POGO’s work has showed that some of the world’s largest oil companies were underpaying U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in royalties that were due for drilling on public land. POGO’s investigations of wrongdoing at the Mineral Management Service helped lead to the eventual disbanding of that agency and a major reorganization at the Interior Department.
POGO intern Jana Persky had a chance to talk to Steinle about her upcoming trip.
POGO: Where are you going/what will you be doing?
Steinle: I'm going to Accra, Ghana to attend a Ford Foundation conference called "Reversing the Resource Curse." The goal of the meeting is to get discussions going among participants from different countries about how, when countries govern natural resources poorly, its citizens miss out on potential revenue streams. I'm going to be chairing a panel about transparency in government relations to oil, gas, and mining companies. I'll be talking about my experience in the U.S., but I'm looking forward to learning from the other folks on my panel, who work in Mexico, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia.
POGO: Have you ever been to Africa before? (If yes, what was it like?)
Steinle: When I was in college, I studied abroad in Morocco for a semester. It was a fantastic experience, and I learned so much about North Africa, but this will be my first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa. I honestly never considered visiting Ghana before this opportunity arose, but the more I've talked to people who've been there, the more excited I get about going there myself.
POGO: How does this connect to your work at POGO?
Steinle: Natural resources governance is the main issue I've been tackling at POGO this year. I've been working closely with our executive director Danielle on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which is a global standard that aims to make natural resources payments to governments more transparent. Dozens of countries, including Ghana, are involved in EITI, so I'm preparing a paper and a presentation about U.S. progress on EITI for the conference.
POGO: What are you hoping to learn from the trip?
Steinle: While the conference participants are coming from a lot of very different countries, we're all dealing with the similar challenges when it comes to transparency. Since I'm focused on U.S. issues at POGO, I'm hoping to learn at this conference specific ways other countries have dealt with their natural resources issues. Hopefully, I can take some of these lessons back to my colleagues working on U.S. EITI.
POGO: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?
Steinle: I'm really excited to meet the other folks attending this conference. I'll admit that I've googled them–like any investigator would!–and I'm going to be among some very impressive people. I'm definitely honored to have a chance to make connections with them.