Dedicated to protect "Trinidad and Tobago's extractive sector wealth, the people's patrimony and children's inheritance"
Victor Hart, Chair of the EITI multi-stakeholder group (MSG) Steering Committee in Trinidad and Tobago, has been instrumental in his country’s EITI implementation, but his interest in the extractive industries and transparency started many years before he was introduced to the EITI.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Victor’s first foray into the world of work was in the energy sector. He then pursued a career as a construction sector consultant. It was after retirement from professional practice that Victor recognised the potential role that transparency could play in improving how the energy sector was run in Trinidad and Tobago, even before he was involved in the EITI.
“Revenues from the extractive industries are the lifeblood of the national economy, but citizens, while being the beneficiaries of the spending of those revenues, knew very little about the details of the exploiting of their natural resources and were passive observers of the process”.
Trinidad and Tobago is a major energy nation and produces daily 75,000 barrels of oil in addition to the natural gas equivalent of 750,000 barrels of oil. Also, although the mining sector does not produce precious minerals, the operations of quarries have a significant social and economic impact.
Fighting for a cause
In 2006, Victor was introduced to the EITI while attending an International Anti-Corruption Conference in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, the local Chapter of Transparency International. Upon learning that Trinidad and Tobago had, in 2003, committed itself to adopting the EITI, but had not yet fulfilled the sign-up requirements, Victor became an EITI advocate in his homeland and his tireless efforts paid off. Victor found partners in his campaign in the CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Energy Chamber, Dr Thackwray Driver, and later in the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Wade Mark. When national elections were announced in 2010, the main opposition party was persuaded to state in its election manifesto “if elected, T&T would apply for EITI membership”. The party came into government in May 2010 and in March 2011 Trinidad and Tobago became an EITI implementing country.
When the going gets tough…
Victor knew that government commitment did not mean an easy ride for the EITI in Trinidad and Tobago. Legal and administrative challenges hindered EITI implementation. Clauses in the Income Tax Act prohibited the government’s tax agency, the Board of Inland Revenue, from releasing company revenue information to the EITI Administrator, regardless of whether or not the companies had given their permission. The mining sector was unregulated and poorly managed, and considerable capacity building would be required for the companies to reach the level of management and accounting to meaningfully participate in the EITI reporting process. Government and company employees had little or no knowledge of the EITI Requirements and would require extensive training.
…the tough get going
Under Victor’s leadership, the EITI MSG made demands on the relevant parties who began to take corrective actions to overcome these challenges. Partnerships had to be built and trust had to be sown between government, companies and civil society actors, who had never before sat around a table to discuss extractive sector governance. Capacity building efforts got underway with all stakeholders. After exploring several options, including a presidential waiver and use of the Freedom of Information Act, a simpler legal solution was found to the confidentiality constraint of the Income Tax Act without having to change it. A Ministerial Order from the Ministry of Finance was given to the Board of Inland Revenue to disclose the information needed for EITI reporting. In order to permanently remove that obstacle, the MSG has developed draft legislation for proclaiming, hopefully in 2016, an EITI Act to entrench the transparent governance of its oil, gas and mining sectors into Trinidad and Tobago’s legal framework.
Engaging civil society in natural resource governance is important for Victor. “I recognised too the need to empower civil society, through knowledge from the credible independent information published in EITI Reports, to hold the government and companies accountable for their actions in exploiting the country's natural resources”. Reflecting on the many aspects of his work, Victor finds that the most rewarding part has been “to see the awakening of civil society from its slumber of many years to assume its role as a partner in the governance of the country's natural resources”.
The EITI received national attention in August 2015 when Trinidad and Tobago’s President Anthony Carmona presented Victor with a National Award, the Humming Bird Medal, for service to the community. In accepting the award, Victor said, “I see this award as recognition of the work done with the Transparency Institute to fight the cancer of corruption and the work currently being done with the Trinidad and Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative MSG to protect the people’s extractive sectors patrimony through the promotion of transparency and accountability.”
Victor is also awakening regional interest in the EITI by taking the EITI message to the wider Caribbean Region initially through visits to and addresses at EITI Workshops in Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname, with the aim of encouraging new members and strengthening the EITI Americas Region.