The EITI and the challenge of transparency

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has now been around for well over a decade (see here for more on the EITI’s history).  Formed as a response to the much vaunted ‘resource curse’, the EITI has developed a position for itself as an important and innovative actor in the fight against natural resource-focussed corruption.  Indeed, it leads the way in developing consultative processes for more openness in the oil, gas and mining sectors.

The EITI board met for the 31st time in Kiev from 7th– 10th December 2015.  And, there was important (internal) business to hand.  There are important changes happening within the EITI, one of which being the appointment of a new chair to continue the work of former UK politician Clair Short.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, the former Swedish Prime Minister (2006-2014), has now taken up his post as her successor.  On doing this he made an upbeat speech, claiming that he was “thrilled to be nominated as the next Chair of the EITI”.   He further added that “questions about openness, transparency and accountability have always been close to my heart” and that he was passionate about seeing natural resources “used in an equitable manner for the benefit of all citizens”.  

Reinfeldt will have plenty to keep him busy.  One of his first tasks will be to oversee the (s)election of new members to the EITI board in 2016 and shortly after that to co-ordinate and lead the EITI Global Conference in Peru (see here).

The challenges that led to the creation of the EITI remain every bit as significant now as they were back then.  The aim of improving transparency in the extractive industries is as important for developed countries as it is for less developed countries. In the USA, for example, big players such as Exxon Mobil Corp have not shared information about the taxes they pay at home, and that even though the company is a member of the EITI US Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG). Indeed Exxon is one of several energy companies that has failed to share U.S. specific tax information for a recent report released by the EITI.

There is another potentially serious challenge facing the new chair, the board and the EITI secretariat in Oslo. Clare Short highlighted the issue in her November Newsletter before she handed over to Reinfeldt:

The issue for the EITI is whether we should make something compulsory and set up many countries to fail or whether we should continue to encourage all countries to make progress.  The real issue is how the EITI should build on the work so far to encourage continuing progress towards the EITI Principles in all countries” 

Civil society groups, one third of the voting members of the EITI board, have been uncompromising in pursuing this relatively hard-line aim at a time when the chair believed more diplomacy was needed. Some London based ‘transnational advocacy non-governmental groups’ (TANGOs) have regularly blocked pleas from the board and industries to allow more time for some countries, such as Azerbaijan, to provide company and tax information to the EITI.

For those not quite so familiar with the EITI’s procedures, membership is often critically important to less economically developed countries (even with natural resources) not least because membership is also a qualification for international aid from the World Bank.

On the other hand London based TANGOs set standards for other MSGs around the world. Recently, for example, they introduced new guidelines for the disclosure of Beneficial Ownership information in UK extractive industries. This was first accepted by members at the UK EITI MSG last year and it has now been accepted by the EITI board:

EITI civil society organisations are normally expected to affiliate to Publish What You Pay (PWYP), an offshoot of Global Witness (GW created PWYP in 2002). Some NGOs, one a former affiliate of PWYP in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are nonetheless now applying directly to Oslo for associate membership of the EITI. This may also lead to opportunities for them to apply independently of PWYP for EITI board membership (for more on PWYP’s selection criteria for EITI board membership see here).

The EITI, as is evident from the above, is evolving. It might subsequently be worth keeping a closer eye on it in years to come.

 

Martin Brown

University of Sussex

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