In most countries, effective management of the extractive industries sector is undermined by a lack of transparency and an abundance of complex rules and regulations. Legislation aimed at improving governance of the sector is urgently needed, and several countries are undertaking promising steps. Too often, however, such processes are not open to citizen engagement or public consultation.
Parliaments have many new ways to push for more open and inclusive legislative reforms of the extractive industries sector. New technologies offer a plethora of means and methods to collect inputs and feedback from relevant stakeholders, independent experts and the public at large. Parliamentary websites, citizen engagement portals and social media are just some of the tools parliament may turn to.
But that's not all there is to it. Even where legislative reform is opened up, the use of technical terms and legal language makes it difficult for people to engage. People who lack technical expertise of the sector may not be able to interpret bills or proposed amendments - but that does not mean they should not be consulted, or that they do not have valuable inputs to share.
The Parliament of Western Australia has taken on this challenge. For its Mining Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, it published the text on its website: the existing law as well as the proposed amendments can all be downloaded in full. It then went further still and offered an Explanatory Memorandum. The Memorandum is a 'how-to-read-these-amendments' guide: it explains what the existing law entails, and outlines the foreseen impacts of the proposed changes.
One could argue that such a Memorandum can never be entirely objective, and that it may colour the views of those unfamiliar with the topic. True as that may be, it is a uniquely helpful way of engaging people in legislative reforms. It can only be hoped that such public participation initiatives will soon be the norm rather than the exception.