Transparency enables the public to obtain information about the operations and structures of a given entity, e.g., government bodies or other powerful actors. In the extractive sector, transparency posits the disclosure of understandable, timely, and salient resource-related information, e.g., contract documents and revenue collection, that will increase the public’s awareness of the sector’s management. Information disclosure, in turn, is thought to enable the public to scrutinize the government and mining companies and hold them accountable for the economic, social, and environmental costs of extractive activities. However, achieving the goal of transparency is not a straightforward process.
From the literature, we know that many transparency initiatives have successfully made public information on various aspects of the extractive sector. However, they often have had disappointing results, failing to have a transformative effect on natural resource governance and societal change at the local level. A key reason for this has been the tendency to equate transparency with disclosure of information without considering the complex contextual environment that may make the disclosed information irrelevant or useless for the intended audience, especially the affected communities. As a result, it has become clear that information disclosure in and of itself is not enough. Thus, we have little understanding of whether locally implemented transparency initiatives could play a transformative role in natural resource management and decisions.
My PhD project’s overarching objective is to examine the potential of transparency initiatives in local natural resource and revenue management to bring about governance and societal reforms in the management of natural resources. To do this, the study proposes transformative transparency—a transparency process that moves beyond (mere) disclosing information by simultaneously focusing on citizens’ engagement and participation in natural resources’ decisions and mechanisms that ensure the power holders are accountable—as a useful approach to focus on the needs and experiences of local communities and to include context-specific measures. Using qualitative approach, I am using inititiaves designed and implemented by Bojonegoro and Pelalawan Districts—two Indonesian districts that host large-scale oil and gas industries—to (re)distribute revenues from the oil production, and the Indonesia’s Mining Law as cases of my investigation. Initial findings show that there is a need for local authorities to assess citizens’ needs and rationales in designing policy for transparent and inclusive natural resource and revenue management and provide meaningful responses beyond access to information. Importantly, the physical and political distances between the citizens and their leaders affect how the host community perceives access to information, their roles in the decision-making process or to raise concerns and challenge the status quo on the issue at hand.
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