Core conditions for greater transparency

New research identifies key factors enabling EITI to improve government transparency, but finds few improvements in accountability prior to the 2013 Standard.

Newly released research suggests that the EITI helps to improve government transparency when two core conditions are in place: First, non-governmental actors (i.e., civil society and the private sector) must be treated as full and equal partners in EITI decision-making and implementation. Second, participating civil society organizations must have the technical expertise to steer disclosure in the right direction, and the resources to regularly attend meetings. Additionally, although visible political support from government officials does not guarantee transparency reforms will be successful, without such support, these reforms are guaranteed to fail.

These findings are drawn from my dissertation, “Global Standards in National Contexts: The role of transnational multi-stakeholder initiatives in public sector governance reform.” The study explores whether and how several global multi-stakeholder initiatives, including EITI, lead to improvements in transparency and accountability by national governments.

An initial desk review in 2015 (commissioned and released by the Transparency & Accountability Initiative) revealed that EITI had produced notable gains in proactive transparency (i.e., the regular release of information about government activities and performance that was not available to the public before), but fewer gains in accountability (i.e., the extent to which government officials are compelled to publicly explain their actions and/or face penalties or sanctions for them). This review also revealed that much of the evidence for EITI’s effectiveness thus far was based on internally produced reports or large statistical studies, rather than on systematic cross-country analysis. To address this gap, I conducted three in-depth case studies of national EITI implementation—in Guatemala, the Philippines, and Tanzania—and compared across these cases (along with six other cases of multi-stakeholder initiative implementation) to identify shared pathways to reform.

These case studies confirm the initial finding that EITI is indeed an effective driver of proactive government transparency. However, while at least some marginal gains were observed in all three cases of national EITI implementation, there was significant variation in the quality, scope, and permanence of these gains. For example, while increased transparency via EITI has been codified into national law in Tanzania, disclosure in Guatemala and the Philippines relies on continued government largess. And while civil society stakeholders in Tanzania and the Philippines report meaningful improvements in EITI reporting over time, Guatemala’s EITI reports are often criticized as overly simplistic and largely redundant to previously available information.

Comparative analysis revealed three different “paths” to proactive transparency reform (see table below), ultimately pointing to two core conditions that, when they occur together, are sufficient to produce meaningful gains in proactive transparency. Governments must actually follow the rules for genuine multi-stakeholder power sharing, and civil society organizations must have the resources to regularly attend meetings and the technical expertise to interpret EITI reporting outputs, and utilize them in their own work. Additionally, while visible political support does not guarantee meaningful gains in proactive transparency, a lack of visible political support does ensure that such reforms will fail.

 

Three possible pathways to proactive transparency reform

Pathway

Context

Key MSI Conditions

Key Government Conditions

Key Civil Society Conditions

Case Examples

1. “Easy”

Absence of recent political crisis

Regular, independent performance evaluation

Visible political support

Skilled, adequately funded CSO participants

EITI in the Philippines*; OGP in the Philippines

2. “Insider”

Recent political crisis

Genuine multi-stakeholder power sharing

Bureaucratic expertise and authority

Skilled, adequately funded CSO participants

CoST in the Philippines; CoST in Guatemala*

3. "Conventional"

N/A

Regular, independent performance evaluation; Genuine multi-stakeholder power sharing

Visible political support

Skilled, adequately funded CSO participants; Relatively broad civil society interest

CoST in Guatemala*; EITI in the Philippines*; EITI in Tanzania

* The comparative method used in this study (fsQCA) proportionally distributes causal weight from individual cases to identify multiple pathways. For details, please see the full study.  

Yet, these case studies also confirm that EITI had yet to produce notable gains in government accountability prior to the 2013 Standard. In Tanzania, EITI report data has been used by civil society groups to highlight weaknesses in the current fiscal regime governing the extractive sector, but neither the government nor private sector actors have responded directly to these findings. In the Philippines, EITI reporting has helped to improve government tracking and reporting systems, but these internal fixes have yet to help civil society identify any actionable deficiencies in EI sector governance, let alone result in any subsequent gains in accountability.

EITI provides access to information that can, in the right circumstances, empower national reformers. Yet, it can also overwhelm government and civil society actors, resulting in only shallow reforms that reproduce existing power imbalances. Future progress is likely to depend on EITI’s capacity to overcome entrenched opposition by broadening and strengthening national coalitions for reform. 

 

Dr Brandon Brockmyer, Accountability Research Center, American University