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Friday, 8 August 2014

Africa trades billions in secret crude oil deals, experts warn

Sub-Saharan Africa’s top 10 oil-producing countries have sold more than US$254 billion in crude through state-owned oil companies over the past three years without publicly accounting for the money.

Governments in sub-Saharan Africa are selling crude petroleum in shadowy deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, according to a new report.

The lack of transparency over staggering amounts of oil revenues is causing concern in countries that have weak budgetary oversight and long track records of corruption, Natural Resource Governance Institute said.

Its research found that sub-Saharan Africa’s top 10 oil-producing countries have sold more than US$254 billion  in crude through state-owned oil companies over the past three years without publicly accounting for the money. This is equivalent to 56 per cent of their combined government revenues, the institute said in its ‘Big Spenders’ report released on Monday.

Among the biggest purchasers were mega Swiss commodity traders, including Glencore, Arcadia and Trafigura, which snapped up one-quarter of the sales between 2011 and 2013, the institute said. It called for new regulations for nationally owned oil companies and big trading firms to disclose their deals.

The sales to Swiss traders were worth an estimated US$55 billion — more than twice as much money as these 10 countries — Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d‘Ivoire, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria and South Sudan — received in net foreign aid, it said.

“The payments made by Swiss companies generate a significant portion of public revenues in some of the world’s poorest countries, and are subject to governance risks as they take place in environments of weak institutions and widespread corruption,” it said.

Kenya is bracing for the launch of commercial oil production within the next few years. The Government has shown little interest in transparency with contracts signed with oil prospecting firms remaining shrouded in secrecy. There are fears this secrecy may continue into sales of oil and spending of resource wealth in coming years.

The push from Natural Resource Governance Institute is part of its efforts to expand the transparency rules for oil, gas and mining as it presses governments to account for how they spend their resource wealth. Currently, more than one billion people live in dire poverty in resource-rich countries.

So far global regulations for resource extraction payments have focused on publicly traded companies. They do not cover all aspects of agreements with a government, including oil provided to a national company for future sale.Switzerland is considering new regulations on extractives disclosure for natural resource companies, but the regulations are modeled after similar rules in the European Union and the United States and would not cover commodity trading firms and their deals with national oil companies.

“Switzerland should accept its responsibility as the world’s leading commodity trading hub and pass regulation that requires Swiss companies producing or trading in natural resources to disclose all payments made to government and state-owned companies, including payments associated with trading activities,” the report said.

The difficulty in compiling the data, which came from media reports, government and company publications and market intelligence, exemplifies the need for transparency, it said.

Among the report’s findings:

1.      Sales by national oil companies account for more than half of government revenues in the Republic of Congo, Angola, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

2.      Glencore, a top global commodity trader, buys all of Chad’s oil, and its payments in 2013 were equal to 16 per cent of the government’s revenue, yet the terms of the oil sales are not publicly disclosed. It struck the deal for exclusive rights without a competitive tender after investing US$300 million in two oilfields there.

3.      In Nigeria, Swiss companies bought $37 billion over three years, equal to 18 per cent of government revenues and more than one-third of its oil. A former central bank governor for Nigeria has alleged that US$20 billion has gone missing in Nigerian oil revenues.

4.      Nigeria awards term contracts to a list of companies that are eligible to buy oil throughout the year, but the report says it is a politicised process “depending on their relationship with the officials in charge and influence of their local contacts or sponsors.”

Source: Reuters.