The politics of petroleum

Youth leaders from Lebanon’s political parties recently met with representatives of the Lebanese Petroleum Authority (LPA) to discuss how to ensure that the country’s natural resources contribute to sustainable development for the population.

The meeting is part of a long-term collaboration between the leaders facilitated by International Alert as part of our ‘Doing politics differently’ project. The group has continued meeting even amid deteriorating security conditions and hardening political positions in the country as well as mounting divides in the region.

The group has worked on a number of contentious issues, including Lebanon’s national defence strategy and the socio-economic and political rights of the country’s significant Palestinian refugee population. The parties select the areas which they believe are priorities for Lebanon and their constituencies and then jointly set the objectives of their collaboration. In some cases the focus of their dialogue is to dialectically build understanding on divisive issues, such as the national defence strategy. In others, they seek to build on their shared understanding to influence decision-making, as in the case of their latest initiative, which focuses on the management of Lebanon’s natural resources.

The political parties have jointly improved their understanding of the sector over the past months, with input from experts with significant knowledge of the different models of managing oil and gas resources and their implications for development and peace. The group’s objective is to generate a set of recommendations which they will jointly advocate for with key stakeholders, including decision-makers, civil society actors and the general public.

The party representatives invited the LPA to give its input on the recommendations developed over the past months, as the authority plays an important role in providing technical input to decision-makers. One of the main points made by the LPA was that at the moment the process for beginning the exploration phase is paralysed. From the perspective of the LPA, the implications of this delay could be significant. As one of the body’s representatives explained, such slow progress could discourage private sector funding and expertise. This would mean that in the global competition, Lebanon becomes a less attractive investment opportunity and therefore loses out. This of course would also impact the broader development opportunities, particularly the development of in-country expertise and, in the longer term, the creation of jobs for the country’s youth.

A party representative and youth leader highlighted that “it is important to keep the focus on transparency. The parties do not want to leave this to the side and prioritise technical issues. Leaving transparency as something to be institutionalised appropriately at a later date would mean that there is a large risk that the sector would mirror the experiences of water or electricity provision, which suffer from serious mismanagement and ineffectiveness in terms of service provision for citizens.”

Another added that “every industry needs reform and we are interested in developing something practical through which to further the interests of our constituencies. This is an important avenue to declare that we exist in this country and to have a voice in our common future.”

The members of the LPA suggested that the “the collaboration amongst the Lebanese parties on this level is not seen on the national level. It gives us an alternative model of political collaboration. Despite deep divisions, the political parties are working jointly to further broader interests. If you are really united and take forward these messages to the political leaders, it could lead to results.”

On 18 September the political party representatives met with the Minister of Energy and Water to discuss their recommendations further. Their recommendations focus on requesting mechanisms for ensuring transparency in the sector and the establishment of a sovereign fund that will contribute to Lebanon’s sustainable development.

They now plan to work with MPs on the oil and gas working committee as well as the members of their own parties, to disseminate the knowledge that they have developed and to encourage greater cooperation on this issue.

Find out more about this project here.

Photos © Nadim Bou Habib/International Alert