The journey is half the fun

Some thoughts on the freshly released MSI Integrity report.

It is not a matter of ends justifying means: but of the creation of new means and new ends."

Joseph O’Connor certainly did not have the EITI in mind when he wrote the historical novel Star of the Sea, much less the intricacies of developing a multi-stakeholder initiative more broadly. Nevertheless, his quote is a good summary of what it means to be at the forefront of one’s field.

The EITI is increasingly recognized as the standard for transparency and good governance in the extractive industries. As most of us who work with it daily soon realise, it is not, however, a finished product. Finding innovative ways to bring good governance and transparency to the industry requires that our stakeholders continue to shape the initiative daily. The recent publication of the first round of reports under the EITI Standard is a good example of this.

This is not least true in the 48 countries that implement the EITI, where multi-stakeholder groups (MSGs) and national secretariats daily use the Standard to address their needs and create new mechanisms that will help them put their ideas into action. Setting a governance framework in place that is conducive to dialogue and constructive engagement between stakeholders is an important part of this.

We’re all in this together

The tripartite nature is one of the EITI’s cornerstones and has largely contributed to its success. Finding a framework that allows stakeholders with different – and sometimes antagonistic – objectives to work together is important. The development of the EITI at the international level is proof that when done properly, setting in place robust governance mechanisms can help organisations achieve incredible feats- even as all the while these mechanisms are developed “on the go”. If neglected however, inadequate attention to governance can damage the legitimacy of the process both domestically and internationally.

Did anyone remember to bring a map?

Clarifying the rules of the game is essential to building stable relations. It also helps build trust. Multi-stakeholder initiatives are a relatively novel idea however, and there are no blueprints to follow. The launch of MSI Integrity’s report Protecting the Cornerstone: Assessing the Governance of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Multi-Stakeholder Groups today is one opportunity to discuss alternatives for moving forward.

Good fruit comes from good trees

MSI Integrity has assessed whether national MSGs are being governed and operated effectively. While we at the Secretariat and elsewhere in the EITI consider and comment on this report, I simply wish to draw out a couple of ideas from it.

One of the report’s key recommendations is that transparent governance of MSGs should be a key principle, and all documents relating to it should be available to all. This is an area where the EITI Board has led by example: the EITI Standard includes a newly reviewed Protocol for the Participation of Civil society, the EITI’s Articles of association, the EITI Openness policy and Draft EITI constituency guidelines. The EITI Board has also approved a Code of Conduct that applies to all EITI Board members, their alternates, Members of the EITI Association, secretariat staff (national and international), and members of multi-stakeholder groups. 

Increased transparency is not a goal in itself; it should be followed up with increased accountability. A second key recommendation is that representatives should be more aware of their responsibilities, both towards the constituency that they represent and to the organization as a whole. Reigning in per diems and having responsible expense policies are important steps to take in many implementing countries. So too is making sure that MSGs refresh their membership regularly, and we have good examples to follow from implementing countries like Iraq.

A third recommendation concerns the relationship between representatives on MSGs and those they represent. Improving public understanding, sparking public debate and informing choice of appropriate and realistic options for sustainable development is the fourth EITI Principle. Can improving coordination and increasing consultation within constituencies help make this happen? Examples like the DRC and the Philippines suggest that this may certainly be a factor, especially when civil society is perceived as being strong, well-coordinated and legitimate.

Work in progress

The EITI has shown since its early beginnings that it is possible to both make progress delivering on the EITI Principles while at the same time strengthening the foundations on which this progress builds. To turn back to O’Connor, if the transition from the Rules to the Standard gave us new ends to work towards, how can we make sure that we also have the means to do so? Bringing this question to the table for discussion may yet prove to be the greatest contribution of the MSI Integrity report.