Thursday, November 20, 2003

On Transparency and Curses

Lately there has been a lot of talk about a curse that, through corruption and other distortions, is stopping oil-rich countries from turning income into development. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, championed by the UK and endorsed by the World Bank, has been named exorcist and is starting its rites by applying a much welcomed transparency to projects such as the Chad-Cameroon pipeline.

In the name of that same transparency, let us also remember that for every single dollar received gross by any oil producing country (who forever sacrifices a non-renewable asset), the public treasury of many oil consuming countries receives, net, at least four dollars, and is therefore a likely victim of the same curse, albeit stricken by different symptoms. For instance, in the oil-consuming developed countries, the curse has now created such an addiction to gasoline taxes, that their whole fiscal structures would be completely unsustainable without them.

To exorcise the taxman’s curse transparency would also be a good starting point as most of the consumers in these countries are not remotely aware of the real extent of the gasoline taxes, and even less of how the proceeds are used. For instance, having always been told that these taxes were environmental, they would be surprised to learn that probably less than half a percent of the US$100 billion collected yearly in Europe, just in taxes on lead-free gasoline, goes to the environment and, worse, that much of it goes in subsidies to the even less environmentally-friendly coal.

Also, today, as the possibilities of satisfying the world’s demands of energy seem quite uncertain and the world is becoming more aware of the final cost of cutting or not the trees of the Amazon will be paid by all, whether they like it or not, it is clear that the world needs to become much more penny-wise when developing alternative energies… and we all know that the penny-wisest best and sole companion, is transparency.

So, after the pipelines, when do we start with the Exchequer’s bag?