Over 600 people from all over the country gather to elect new board members of their EITI.
You may not think of Iraq as the first place for hundreds of civil society representatives from all over the country to convene for a marathon discussion on the management of the country’s natural resources. Especially with the eruption of Islamic State dominating our headlines.
And yet on 15 November, this is exactly what happened at Baghdad’s Oil Cultural Centre.
The numbers are impressive by any measure, even if one disregards the security situation in the country. Between 500 and 600 participants from more than 380 civil society organisations held constructive discussions in what one observer described as “a general atmosphere of understanding of the importance of the activity they were engaged in”.
This was possibly the largest organised gathering of civil society organisations in Iraq’s history. It might also have been the largest forum for electing representatives to a national EITI multi-stakeholder group. After ten hours of discussions, participants elected the four representatives that would represent civil society on the multi-stakeholder group (MSG).
The size of the event and the broad participation showed the importance that Iraqi civil society attach to the proper governance of the oil and gas sector in a country estimated to have 10% of the world’s proven reserves of oil and 2% of its natural gas. As the latest Corruption Perception Index shows, corruption continues to be a concern in the country which according to the International Energy Agency has the potential to earn some US $5 trillion from its natural resources in the next two decades.
Although the EITI ensures that Iraqi civil society has a space to engage in constructive dialogue with companies and the government on how the industry should be governed, making the best possible use of this space requires adequate organization and good planning. Civil society is not a homogeneous entity, and different organisations reflect and represent a wealth of interests. If properly harnessed, this diversity can enrich the discussion.
Never before in Iraq EITI’s history was the election process open to such a large number of civil society organisations registered outside of Baghdad. One of the positions was reserved for a representative from a women’s organization and another for a representative from an organisation in the Kurdish region. In order to build trust among participants the process was overseen by an independent judge, representatives from civil society organisations that do not have a direct stake in the EITI and a representative from an international civil society organization. Qualifying criteria for candidates were a minimum knowledge of the EITI and proof they had the support of at least 15 organisations. A web-based form was developed for this purpose. The EITI national secretariat compensated all participants for their travel costs.
Preparations for this meeting started over a year ago, with Iraqi civil society deciding the steps for the election. “This contributed hugely to its later success", says Diana Kaissy, regional director of the Publish What You Pay coalition for Middle East and North Africa. She notes in particular that “the independent manner in which civil society was able to conduct their selection and election process is an essential EITI Requirement, and crucial for the success of the EITI process as a whole."
The national secretariat, its Secretary General Mr. Alaa Mohie El-Deen, and the overseeing commission contributed to make the Iraqi election process an example for countries wishing to revitalise or reselect their multi-stakeholder groups.
More importantly however, they set the stage for a constructive dialogue on the good governance of the industry. This comes as Iraq prepares to publish its first report under the EITI Standard.
We join our colleagues at Iraq EITI in congratulating civil society representatives Feryal Alkaabi, Khalid Naqshabandy, Saeed Yaseen and Ali Nima for their election and welcome them to the EITI family.
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"Iraq civil society holds historic elections" was published by on eiti.org on 15 December 2014.