Ensuring that extractives data don’t become distractive

Converting transparency to accountability was a recurring theme at the 6th International EITI Conference on Thursday.

With over half of the 39 countries that are implementing the EITI now Compliant, how to convert transparency to accountability was a recurring theme among the 1,300 delegates at the 6th International EITI Conference Thursday.

The conference kicked off with a shared announcement from UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President of France Francois Hollande that their countries will implement the EITI.

The new Standard adopted at Sydney raises the reporting bar significantly, requiring key contextual information about licensing, state ownership, CSR payments and other details.

All of that will improve the quality of transparency by generating a great deal of useful data that make the EITI Standard more robust, more relevant and a stronger tool for people to demand accountability.

Combine that with the figures to come from the disclosure requirements for companies with the Dodd-Frank legislation, the EU directive and other sources and you’ve got a massive amount of new data coming on stream that can be mined, combined, aligned and likely even maligned

Amidst all the heady expectations and promise that the data hold, we must not lose sight of the real purpose of the EITI— to help improve the livelihoods and welfare of people in resource-rich countries.

As Anthony Richter, Chairman of the Revenue Watch Institute put it, “all the data in the world cannot reduce poverty”.

In order to reduce poverty, countries have to use the data available in EITI reports. Like in Nigeria they recovered US $2 billion of owed taxes identified by the Nigeria EITI (NEITI) process according to Minister of Mines, Musa Sada. For this great effort, NEITI was awarded the EITI Chair’s Award Thursday evening.

All eyes on the target

Some countries were caught a bit unprepared or did not fully grasp the consequences of the revised 2011 Rules as they had some concerns about the added burden. We must ensure that the effort required to meet the new reporting demands does not distract countries from the higher priority, i.e. enabling people to use the data to convert transparency to accountability.

Professor Paul Collier author of the Bottom Billion spoke for many people when he noted that: “transparency has to lead to accountability, otherwise we’re just ticking loads of boxes”. 

Both companies and citizens need to use the data to hold government to account.

Seeing to it that the wealth of new data results in better governance will require dedicated, creative communication-- to explain the import of the numbers for different groups and how they can use them. Only when people see compelling stories in the numbers can we expect them to drive the public debate needed to create meaningful impact from transparency.

Creative “infomediaries” will be needed to synthesise the data, put it into context and tell the stories that enable people to unleash the power of the data. 

Until we do that, there is a risk that data about revenue from extractives will be merely distractive.

The EITI has come far in the last ten years, to know more about the progress of EITI, read the Progress Report 2013 – Beyond Transparency