* Industry says project reporting not useful
* Industry seeks $1 million disclosure threshold
* Project-level essential, threshold must be
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, May 11 Anti-corruption law on how EU
oil, gas, mining firms and the logging industry report payments
to governments could be nearing agreement, following a
compromise proposal that tackles industry objections to
disclosing individual projects.
Talks are ongoing between the Commission, member states and
the European Parliament, but a Danish presidential spokesman
said he believed a deal was possible before the end of the
Danish EU presidency in June.
"On accounting, we hope for agreement before the end of the
presidency," Jakob Alvi said.
A source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said debate
was focused on coming up with an acceptable definition of what a
project was and the financial threshold for disclosing payment.
"Project definition is the key issue, whether it's a licence
or a contract and the threshold is linked to that," the source
Non-governmental organisations and members of the European
Parliament have argued for reporting at project level, which
they say can reveal payments that could otherwise be hidden.
Industry representatives have lobbied vigorously against,
saying it would not provide meaningful data as, in most cases,
taxes are not levied on a project basis.
A compromise under discussion would involve naming projects,
but only listing payments to local and national governments.
Oil, gas and mining firms say they share the wish to
eradicate corruption and many have joined the international
Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
"For us, weak governance is an investment risk," Alan
McLean, executive vice-present tax at Royal Dutch Shell
, said in an address to the European Parliament. "Money
disappears in countries with weak governance."
But he argued project-level reporting would create more
problems than it solved.
"The issue is in defining project - which has many meanings
for many companies, countries and sectors," he said.
Resource companies have also argued project-level reporting
could pose problems in disputed areas, such as the Caspian, and
jeopardise security of supply.
They say their arguments are not primarily about cost and
their objections are on the basis of practicality. However, they
also call for a minimum reporting threshold of $1 million.
Vicky Bowman, global practice leader, external affairs at
mining company Rio Tinto , said the company
already reported payments starting at that level and believed it
represented a fair balance between undue administrative burden
and fighting corruption.
"We are concerned that the cost-benefit of the legislation
should be considered," Bowman told the European Parliament.
"Every million spent on auditors or reconfiguring IT systems is
a million not spent on investment, including in social
programmes, or return to shareholders."
Campaigners, pushing for project-level reporting, said a
threshold of $1 million was "ridiculous".
"It would mean so many payments which are crucial to local
communities would be entirely lost to view. We have been pushing
for a more meaningful threshold of around 15,000 euros
($19,400)," Joseph Williams, senior advocacy officer of the
Publish What You Pay campaign group, said.
As it stands, the Commission has called for disclosure of
"material" amounts, while the European Parliament has pushed for
anything over 100,000 euros and member states have suggested
more than half a million euros.
"Project level reporting is the only way in which
communities and local governments can track their entitlements
from the extraction and prospecting which takes place in their
own back yard," Williams said further.
"Since projects have different risk profiles, investors also
need payment information on high-risk individual projects that
would otherwise be hidden by aggregated or country-level
Williams noted the U.S. equivalent law, under the Dodd-Frank
package of legislation, had mandated project-by-project
reporting - but the extractive industries lobby says the United
States was struggling to implement it.
A spokesman for U.S. regulator the Securities and Exchange
Commission (SEC) said he could not comment on "specifics".
Membership of the EITI is voluntary. No EU member state has
joined, but the Commission has said the ultimate aim of revising
EU accounting and transparency law is to strengthen the
initiative and extend its scope to all resource-rich countries.