Regional Workshop on RTI & Natural Resources (Oil, Gas, Fish and Minerals)
20th & 21st September 2018
Statement by Susan Eckey, Ambassador of Norway
Thank you for inviting me to speak this morning. The Right to Information and Natural Resources is a theme where Norway, as we have heard, has significant experience. Information about the management of living marine resources as well as oil and gas has been key for the development of these sectors in Norway. The accessibility for the public to this kind of information has shaped the Norway we see today. Let me give you a few examples. Information about rapidly declining fish stocks lead to an acceptance of a strict management regime in our national waters as well as international initiatives, bilateral and multilateral, to legislate the sustainable use of living marine resources. The next Norwegian speaker at this seminar, Mr. Rune Ytreberg, was awarded a prestigious Norwegian prize for journalists (SKUP) for disclosing information about overfishing. Information about the overuse of medication in the aquaculture industry lead to improvements in that regard, although challenges remain. Information about the possible, or even probable, negative consequences of oil and gas exploration in vulnerable off-shore areas in the North of Norway has made this issue a hot potato in Norwegian politics. Without information, and publicly available information, Norway may have been without cod, the salmon industry would have been dead and it remains to be seen what Parliament decides regarding oil and gas exploration in Northern Norway.
An important part of Norway’s partnership with Uganda builds on these experiences: right to information and access to information for citizens, civil society, business, academia and not least the importance of a well informed Parliament. In Uganda, Norway has been invited to share our knowledge, experience and competence regarding the exploration of oil and gas through the “Oil for Development” programme. Norwegian and Ugandan experts sit together and discuss legal issues, engineering solutions, tax regulations, statistical issues and the sustainable management of natural resources in a vulnerable area. Another part of the Oil for Development programme is our support to civil society as well as local and regional authorities. Many of them work to inform local citizens of their rights and the consequences of the petroleum sector. Through the multipartner Trust Fund “Democratic Governance Facility” we also support local authorities from the Albertine Graben region who have formed a group (AGODA) which speaks with the central government. The Oil for Development programme has facilitated annual meetings between government, the relevant public institutions and civil society to discuss issues of concern. From what I hear, the relationship is cordial and constructive without disregarding the different points of departure of the actors. The Oil for Development programme also asks Uganda to accede to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Uganda has, after many years of promise, now initiated the legal procedures including in Parliamant to be able to become an EITI member.
Norway’s support to the DGF Fund, which I just mentioned, also includes support to a wide range of civil society actors working for transparency and information sharing. It is a fact, however, that information sharing on social media has become more difficult for many due to the new tax, though it is supposed to be removed.
An issue close to my heart is the information available to women and girls. And their ability to understand and process the wide range of information in today’s media landscape. Let’s put a “gender lense” on the information available. Does the information available relate to women and girls – such as their rights in a marriage, or the lack of rights in an undocumented marriage? Do young women and teenagers in Uganda know enough about the consequences of early and childhood pregnancies, and how to avoid them – and where should such information come from? As Uganda approaches the construction phase for the petroleum industry and the start of the production, is there sufficient information about possible abuse of women and girls – in order to take the necessary precautions? Who should give such information to them? We know that sex work will increase when construction workers move in, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate goes up and local women and girls become particularly vulnerable. They need information, although necessary, it is not sufficient. Action must follow. I also want to underline the urgent need for more women in the media – in leadership, as journalist, as commentators and as subjects for articles, op-eds etc. I don’t think it’s a 100% correlation between the number of women in the media and the coverage of issues important to the lives of women and girls, but there certainly is a connection! Last year I visited the “Daily Monitor” and asked them if my impression was right: that they had no permanent female commentator. They confirmed that I was right – but that this was wrong. Is it really so hard to find women with opinions, who can and want to be published? Norwegian media houses have an initiative called “Women in the News”, which provides training to women to increase the number of female media leaders. It’s needed – women in the media need to claim their space!
Norway has a strategy on “The freedom of expression and independent media (2016 – 2018)” in our foreign and development policy work. The first goal is to strengthen the independence of the media. Secondly, the strategy has a strong focus on the rights and the protection of those who provide information and express information, such as journalists and other who work in the media. The strategy pays particular attention to the safety and security of women in such roles. Thirdly, the kind of information the strategy says is of public interest concerns public finances and the management of government (EITI, Open Government Initiatives), and such information should be open. The strategy also talks about different kinds of expression which should be open and free, such as through artistic means.
I wish you a very successful seminar. This diverse group of participants should guarantee a lively and interesting discussion.