Good Governance Groups Call For Transparency In Land Deals

April 25, 2012
Source: 
Wall Street Journal

By C.M. Matthews

Governments and private companies should open up the process around large-scale land deals in developing countries, according to a policy report released Wednesday.

The report called for all contractual information to be made publicly available unless investors or governments can prove that this would harm commercial competitiveness or public interest. It said that most land deals are secret and mired by corruption, citing past studies by the report’s publishers, Global Witness, the International Land Coalition and the Oakland Institute.

“This report calls for the adoption across all land and natural resource decision-making of a precautionary principle of ‘if in doubt, disclose,’” the groups said.

The push for publication of government contracts appears to be gaining steam. At the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings last week, development bank officials, the finance ministers of Indonesia and the Philippines and representatives of General Electric and Siemens AG agreed to publish infrastructure projects, at least in principle. Mining, oil and other extractive companies are currently required to publish any payments made to foreign governments in order to bid on World Bank projects.

Wednesday’s report cited the other transparency movements, and called for similar changes in large-scale land deals.

“Experience from other natural resource sectors demonstrates the importance of identifying very specific entry points at which specific information disclosure will have a wider impact on transparency and subsequent accountability,” the report said.

According to the report, many developing nations simply don’t have the proper apparatus or infrastructure for the reporting and publication of contracts. For example, the national database of the Cambodian government on land concessions is only available online and in English, the report said, limiting its  accessibility to communities with electricity, computers, and English language skills.