Accountability by billboard
If you arrive or you depart from Lusaka by air, you can hardly escape a gigantic billboard at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. It shows how much revenue Zambia collected from the mining industry, the mainstay of the economy for nearly a century. In 2009, Zambia collected US$500 million from the mining companies, up 50% in local currency from the revenues received in 2008.
Similar billboards dot Zambia’s mining communities. The billboards show how much money each local council has collected from the mining companies. An approach of Zambia’s local EITI chapter to take information to the people, the billboards inform the public about the contributions of mining to the economy and foster a dialogue on transparency and accountability in Zambia’s extractive sector.
Equipped with data generated by EITI reports on company payments and government revenues, local communities in Zambia now demand accountability from their public officials.
At the Zambian general elections held in September 2011, mining was at the centre of public debate. Communities vigorously debated about the contribution of mining to the economy. In this election, thanks to the billboards and the broadcast of information on mining revenues in Zambia’s African languages, the public across their country had for the first time verifiable data to engage in the debate.
Just a month after the elections, EITI Board Chairperson, Clare Short, visited the mining community of Solwezi in Zambia. Ms Short attended a town hall meeting on the EITI with the local community. The community was well-informed on government revenues from the mining companies, but wanted more. The community sought information on production statistics to compare it with government revenues from the extractive sector, with a view to holding government officials accountable.
At the EITI Board meeting held in Lusaka on October 25-26, 2012, Dr. Sixtus Mulenga, an industry representative from Zambia’s EITI Multi-stakeholder Group, informed participants that members in his community in Kitwe ask public officials why there are potholes on their roads when their council has collected revenues from the mining companies.
When more communities like those in Zambia demand accountability, we will see the direct benefits of EITI to ordinary citizens at the local level.
Abdul Omar is a Consultant with the World Bank. He previously served as the World Bank’s Regional EITI Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Photo: Street view in Lusaka, by the EITI.