March/April 2014

Sharing our experiences

Canadian institute to assist foreign governments to develop responsible extractive sectors

By Andrew Livingstone

By as early as April, a new Canadian institute will begin delivering programs to help local, regional and national governments in developing countries to convert their mineral resource potential into sustainable industries that provide long-term benefits to their citizens.

The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development, a partnership between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and École Polytechnique de Montreal, was awarded $25 million by the federal government in November 2012 to develop and deliver programs that help foreign governments improve resource development policies. This is in addition to $15 million of in-kind funding from the three universities.

The institute’s members have been busy ever since, communicating with foreign governments and putting together programs that fit their needs. Professors will travel to host countries to deliver the majority of the programs that will focus on applied research, community engagement, education and natural resource governance. Funding runs out in 2018, and the goal is to have the institute running self-sufficiently by then through partnerships with governments, non-governmental organizations and mining companies.

The federal government sees Canada’s experience and reputation in the extractive sector as an opportunity to help foreign governments improve “revenue and wealth distribution among all individuals so everyone can reap the rewards,” said Christian Paradis, international development minister.

Weak capacity in taxation, inspection and regulation, contract negotiation, and revenue collection and distribution are problems the government has identified in developing countries. “[These are barriers] to ensuring that developing countries make the most of the developmental and economic results of extractive operations in their countries for the benefit of their people,” said Nicolas Doire, a spokesperson with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

“We recognize that Canadian companies want to see good government in countries where they are working, and it reduces their risk when they’re working in other countries,” said Bern Klein, the institute’s executive director. He explained there are countries that have significant resource potential, “but they don’t have the experience or systems in place to best benefit from the development of these resources.” He added some companies currently advise governments on aspects of resource development and policy: “It’s a bit of a conflict of interest and our institute serves as a third-party group that can help support the government.”

Klein said one of the major barriers of resource development in developing countries is a lack of knowledge about mining locally. “A lot of the conflicts take place at the community level,” he said, adding this is an area where the institute hopes to help. When organized community governments can effectively communicate what the issues and opportunities are with a specific project, they can make more informed decisions, he explained.

Members of the institute are currently in the process of developing programs that concentrate on Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Much of the institute’s initial outreach has been with Latin American countries, specifically Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. Klein said the institute is looking to partner with local universities. Discussions about programming in Latin America have so far included integrated resource management and local governance; however, nothing has been decided at this point.

Artisanal mining is a big focus area for the institute, said Klein, as it plays a significant part of the mining sector in developing countries, specifically in Africa. Worldwide, there are more than 15 million artisanal miners and the numbers are climbing, he said. However, the use of mercury is prevalent and causing major health and environmental issues. “We’re trying to move the practice away from the use of mercury to other methods to help them recover gold, but at the same time help them do it in a safer manner that is less harmful to the environment,” pointed out Klein. “They want to know how to get more gold and they want to know technologies that will improve their livelihoods, and our hope is to give that to them.”

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