The EITI should not be afraid to move into new areas

By Sefton Darby, Director of S.E.B. Strategy Ltd

With the 4th international EITI conference almost upon us it is perhaps worth doing a little advanced thinking about the kind of issues which the global "EITI community" will need to address in the 2 years that follow the conference. At the Lancaster House conference in 2003 a two-fold agenda was set: to broaden what was then a very small group of stakeholders into an international movement; and to work with EITI's "early adopters" such as Azerbaijan and Nigeria to figure out what improving transparency in the extractive industries actually meant. This lead to the March 2005 London conference at which one of the largest conference venues in Westminster was booked out to cope with the flood of global interest, and in which the first codifications of EITI policy and guidance - the EITI Criteria and the EITI Sourcebook - were agreed.

After London the challenge was to internationalise the governance of EITI and to strengthen policy. This lead to the establishment of the EITI Board, the International Secretariat in Oslo, and the agreement of the validation indicators. Since the Oslo conference of October 2006 the focus has been on turning EITI into a deep rooted global initiative, reaching out to countries and companies previously not involved in the EITI, and helping countries to work their way towards becoming EITI compliant.

So what will be the agenda after the next conference? Herewith a few guesses. By the time of the Doha conference EITI will have reached its"middle age" as an Initiative. With middle-age comes some interesting political demands, the greatest of which is maintaining global interest in and commitment to the Initiative. The United Nations resolution on the EITI is an excellent step in this direction, but many organisations will want to declare that EITI has either been an incredible success or a terrible failure -and regardless of which side of the debate they are on, they will want to move on to something new.

This is not because EITI is "finished" but simply because most government officials and ministers, company CEOs and civil society organisations, rarely have the patience (or interest) in focusing on the same issue for 10-20 years. I say 10-20 years, because I strongly believe that the true benefits of the EITI will take that long to become very obvious - transparency and accountability are hard won treasures.

This tendency to either declare victory or failure means that there are three things which the EITI community must focus on following the Doha conference. Firstly, the EITI Board and Secretariat must rigorously concentrate on finding a new generation of international champions for the Initiative -internationally known and respected figures who will keep EITI, and the broader challenges of managing natural resource wealth, on the global agenda. Visibility matters, and so does one's collection of important friends – EITI needs both.

Secondly, very rigorous research will need to be commissioned into articulating the benefits of EITI implementation. Susan Aaronson's early research is an excellent move in this direction. But because transparency and accountability are by their very nature extremely intangible goods - the importance of documenting EITI's successes becomes all the more important. The initiative cannot rely on the general notion that transparency is inherently good; it is, but that's not enough to drive a global initiative.

Finally, the EITI Board will need to be willing to continue to develop and strengthen EITI policy. The past few years have been a period of consolidation for the EITI - but to withstand its critics, EITI will need to take on new issues. A sample of such issues might include addressing the role of government audit institutions in EITI (a subject that has long been neglected). There is a question of whether EITI can reach out to smaller companies or even the exporters of artisinaly mined minerals. Some will want more clarity in following extractive industry revenues through to the point of expenditure. Others still will want to look at the issue of the transparency of extractive industry contracts. These are but a sample of the kinds of issues that people are already debating. The EITI Board will need to launch a consultative process on what the next steps for EITI policy should be.

What I am absolutely certain of is that if EITI policy remains stationary for the two years following Doha, then the Initiative will lose relevance and credibility -what was a radical new approach in 2003 will be very old, possibly even outdated, news in 2009. Some stakeholders may not wish to open up the inevitably vigorous international debate that would surround any new EITI policy development - debate takes a very long time and is often destabilizing in the short-term. But it is EITI's multi-stakeholder governance structure which gives it the very strength to withstand such a debate – EITI has a consistent history of reconciling previously irreconcilable parties around difficult issues. It is those kinds of debates which take place every day in the countries implementing the Initiative. At the international level EITI should celebrate that strength by not being afraid to move into new areas. I will, however, leave it to others to argue what those areas should be.

Sefton Darby is the Director of S.E.B. Strategy Ltd (email sebd@sebstrategy.com), a public policy and international development consulting company. He has worked full-time on EITI issues since 2003 - initially as a member of the UK Department for International Development's (DFID) EITI Secretariat, then as a member of the World Bank's EITI team, and now as an independent consultant.