Was the 5th EITI Global Conference in Paris just another huge, expensive and time-consuming development conference? To me, the answer was a resounding no, for three main reasons:
- There was unprecedented interest in the conference partly due to its backdrop - uprisings in North Africa demanding more accountability in government; the recent debate about transparency caused not least by the wikileaks debate; and high commodity prices. The participation of so many prominent and interesting figures helped.
- The debate over mandatory disclosure requirements in the US and Europe also sparked some energy with different positions clearly set out from the very opening plenary. Clare Short was asked in one of the press conferences if the lack of agreement amongst EITI stakeholders on mandatory disclosure was evidence that the EITI was failing. She responded that the fact that the EITI can provide the platform and forum for such debates amongst the key stakeholders was its very strength. The conference provided a space for these important discussions between the key stakeholders.
- This conference also put national EITI processes front and centre. The excellent National Exhibition reminded us that, amongst all the debate on international disclosure requirements, the EITI is making a difference on the ground in 35 countries. And the processes are impressive, as reflected in the materials on display: reports, posters, newspaper articles, videos, radio programmes, cartoons, T-shirts, etc.
However, the main benefit of the conference was that it acted as a catalyst for action and a forum for building support. Several counties, undertook corrective actions and achieved Compliance on the eve of the Conference. Without the conference, there would not have been a rush to produce new reconciliation reports and candidate applications. No spirit of competition and inspiration within the National Exhibition. No explosion of country activity to include in the President’s or Minister’s speech or briefing. No sustained engagement with key stakeholders like the South African Minister of Finance, new companies, Mo Ibrahim, George Soros, etc. For many it was a first taste of the EITI, or a stark reminder of how much it matters to their agendas. EITI national secretariats and multi-stakeholder groups have higher profiles in their countries than ever before. We have new friends and a window of opportunity with emerging economies, new companies, media, and key individual champions.
So where do we go now? The conference was all about how Transparency Counts. Now we need to move to the Beyond Transparency agenda. Transparency counts but, without accountability, it doesn’t count much. And vice versa – strong accountability feeds off transparency. We need to help countries use their EITI processes to deepen this synergy, and go beyond compliance.
We also need to make better use of EITI data. There was plenty of chat about the importance of the EITI process, but comparatively little reference to the 67 EITI reports that have now been published, and the rich information that they provide. The Revenue Watch Institute has developed a new web tool for viewing, comparing and sharing data from the most recent EITI reports and Revenue Watch's qualitative analysis: http://www.revenuewatch.org/EITIreports.
Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Natural resource governance is afloat on such a tide - we need to build on the momentum of the conference and be on our guard against complacency. The Secretariat wants to extend its deepest gratitude to all involved.
Eddie Rich is Deputy Head and Regional Director at the EITI International Secretariat.