Canada’s mineral producers are risk-takers. They risk finding no minable deposits when they explore. They risk investors’ money when they develop a property. They risk falling commodity prices that can halt their operations. They risk huge liabilities if they make an ecological miscalculation. And sometimes they risk their reputations in countries with records of human rights abuses.
Despite some notable exceptions, Canadian miners enjoy a warm welcome in most countries. They approach projects in consultation with local people and governments. Their projects can bring significant economic benefits to a region. And they try hard to leave a legacy of sustainable development.
So why the heck is former Prime Minister Jean Chrtien reportedly meeting with the despotic leader of Turkmenistan?
Turkmenistan, located north of Iran on the Caspian Sea, is widely believed to have one of the world’s most repressive and authoritarian regimes. It gained independence from the former Soviet Union in October 1991. President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, who prefers the title ‘Turkmenbashi the Great’, holds tight the reins of power. He is an ex-Communist, and the country’s 4.9 million people live in a tribally-based social structure. Turkmenistan produces cotton, oil and gas, and it is a regular route for drug traders.
Oil and gas revenues may be the future of Turkmenistan, but the resources are strictly controlled by the president. Various reports have Chrtien representing a new Calgary-based company called Buried Hill Energy of which he is a director. He and company president Roger Haines evidently met with Niyazov and came away with an understanding that Buried Hill will be allowed to explore and develop petroleum resources in the Caspian Sea.
I suspect very little of the oil and gas revenues generated will improve the lives of most citizens. I am ashamed that a former head of Canada’s government would deal so blatantly with a despot such as Niyazov.
Turkmenistan is one place where Canadian companies should consider leaving resources in the ground. Knowing that the repressive regime will line its own pockets and the vast majority of citizens will get no benefit from extraction is one reason to stay away. Another reason is the fair certainty that someone such as Niyazov will never let his people participate in impact benefit agreements and sustainable development projects.
Let’s set our sights on countries where great mineral wealth can be shared by all.