How Mongolia is using online tools to streamline reporting and make the EITI relevant to domestic priorities.
Mongolia is a country in rapid transition. While traditional Gers are still very much part of the landscape in this vast country, a higher percentage of the population uses mobile phones than in Germany. Earlier this year Mongolia made the news for using SMS to hold a referendum on whether the state should move ahead with mining investments. Mining is also discussed on twitter – check for #Оюутолгой (Mongolian for Oyu Tolgoi, one of the main mines under development) to get an impression of the lively discussion around the extractives.
Also in terms of development of eReporting – filing figures and documents online and not in paper – Mongolia is an exciting place to watch. In fact, just as EITI Chair Clare Short visited the capital on 4 to 6 June 2015, Mongolia stood at a watershed in its implementation of EITI.
A new eReporting system launched in October 2014 is streamlining disclosures by companies and government agencies. The platform is rendering the information available in a timelier manner, but also allows interactive online tools to facilitate access to the information in a more user-friendly way.
Before: Extensive but inaccessible
In the past eight years, EITI reporting has produced extensive disclosures, covering more companies year by year. Whereas the 2006 report included revenue figures from 35 companies, there were 1600 in its latest (2013) one.
Despite such extensive coverage, these reports did little to inform the often passionate national debate over the governance of the extractive industries. While parliamentarians debated new mining and petroleum legislation in June 2014, little mention was made of the concrete evidence found in EITI Reports, such as the level of payments actually received under the former royalty structure.
“The EITI Reports are full of information but were seldom used, locked up as they were in PDFs,” says Ganbat Ganbaatar, IT officer at EITI-Mongolia (EITIM). As long as data is stuck in PDFs, it is more challenging to use, and tends to be only read at best.
- Related: Opening up EITI Reports
Now: Unlocking the potential
The EITIM Secretariat recognised the opportunity to demonstrate the potential value of the information contained in the EITI reports. With funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and technical assistance from Adam Smith International, the Secretariat launched an eReporting portal in October 2014.
This portal improves two aspects: it makes submission of revenue figures much easier for companies and government ministries and makes those figures available online for people to access and use.
With regards to the data submission side, the site allows companies to file their EITI reporting templates – mostly excel files containing the requested revenue figures - and their digital certification of these figures directly online. Government agencies also report the 55 revenue streams the state collects from the extractive industries, with the figures immediately available to public once filed. By 31 March 2015, some 987 companies had reported their 2014 payments using this system, equivalent to 57% of companies to be covered by the 2014 EITI Report.
On the use of data, the platform also integrates software tools that allow for visual presentations of the figures, ranging from interactive infographics that map the ownership of mining licenses and petroleum production-sharing agreements (PSAs) to cadastral maps that allow users to track government payments by companies by geographical location. In time, users will be able to overlay EITI data with other datasets including employment, social infrastructure and water resources.
The most visually arresting tool may be the interactive infographic that allows users to map owners of mining and petroleum licenses according to their country of incorporation, type of shareholder, shareholder name and company name.
“Local people are very strong in Mongolia, they just need access to information!” says Mrs Dashdorj Erdenechimeg, Coordinator of the Publish What You Pay coalition in Mongolia. The country has 21 provinces (aimag) and 329 districts (soum) and these local governments are being given a greater say over how extractive revenues are spent as they receive 30% of royalties and half of license fees.
The EITIM launched subnational summaries of its extensive EITI Reports in 2013 (covering 2012 data), but the online tools will simplify the process of extracting province (aimag) and district (soum) specific figures.
New government regulations were enacted in 2013 to provide for greater oversight of extractive industries governance to local governments. They established tripartite provincial-level councils in ten of Mongolia’s 21 aimags, covering the one-third of 329 districts (soums) that host extractive exploration and production. The councils are run by provincial governments and composed of representatives of local government, companies active locally and representatives of civil society including artisanal and small-scale miners. They meet regularly to discuss key issues of concern ranging from the allocation of subnational transfers to the uses of companies’ social expenditures in each soum. As of June 2015, six of these 100 soums have established EITI representation and distributed soum-level EITI summary reports.
The visit of Clare Short, Chair of the EITI, to Mongolia coincided with the first EITI Open Day in Bayangol soum, in Selenge aimag (see pictures of the event). The meeting was a town hall - type roundtable organised by the provincial council and the EITIM Secretariat. It was the occasion to disseminate an EITI summary report for Bayangol soum covering 2013 and produced with assistance from Germany’s technical assistance agency (GIZ) and another summary report for Selenge aimag produced by the EITIM Secretariat. The Governor of Bayangol soum, D. Enkhbat, provided an overview of how company contributions were put to use locally, while questions focused on the activities of the 24 companies holding a total of 34 licenses in the district.
The presence of many artisanal miners focused the discussion on how artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) could be integrated into EITI reporting, with an aim to piloting the approach in Selenge aimag, the only province with a specific policy on ASM. With data available through Mongolia’s eReporting platform easy to query, local communities’ ability to source the most relevant data for their needs will only grow. Indeed discussions at the Open Day focused on the ownership of mining exploration licenses, the use of companies’ social payments and the share of national revenues flowing to aimag and soum administrations.
The eReporting system also gathers additional data in line with the EITI Standard. Figures for environmental payments such as mine rehabilitation funds are available for public scrutiny for the first time. The next phase of the eReporting project involves connections to government departments including the Mineral Resources Authority (MRAM) and the General Taxation Department to allow the platform to pull data such as cadastral information and tax figures automatically, while these agencies will be able to draw upon EITI information in their daily work. The EITIM Secretariat will also complete the picture by uploading the previous eight years of EITI disclosures and add a function to generate machine-readable data files (in XML format).
Finally – and the addition with potentially the greatest impact – the EITIM Secretariat will work on developing the last mile: functions and products, like mobile applications, that support greater accessibility by end-users as diverse as parliamentarians and local mine-affected communities.
There is clearly an audience for such data. “Of Mongolia’s close to 3 million citizens, the entire 1.5 million adult population analyses any developments in the mining sector with a fine comb,” HE Chimed Saikhanbileg, Prime Minister of Mongolia, told Clare Short when they met.
Beyond interest from the general public, more accessible EITI information should lead to a more evidence-based debate. The newly established National Minerals Policy Council is eager to draw on Mongolia’s extensive experience of EITI implementation. Parliamentarians in the Great Khural, whose legislative agenda is dominated by questions of extractive industries governance, are also a natural audience for information like ownership of mining licenses.
Innovative reporting system - but will it pass muster?
The new eReporting system is contributing to more timely data, a more fact-based debate and simplifying the collection and analysis of data for companies, government ministries and citizens alike. But will it pass the muster of the EITI Standard?
As with all EITI countries, Mongolia is measured against the Standard every three years (in a process called Validation). With its next check coming up in October 2015, the innovative approach to data collection and dissemination will come under scrutiny.
The EITI Standard allows for a range of ways to collect data. However, there is a sequence of events that needs to respected to ensure that the information from companies and government agencies collected correspond to what the national EITI wants to cover in their report, and that the data collected is robust enough (ensuring the quality of data collected for instance).
The due process requires that the Independent Administrator (who collects and reconciles the numbers) and the MSG decide what all to include in the reports. Then the Independent Administrator checks how the systems are set up to collect the data. If it is deemed robust, data collection can begin.
And this could be the crux of the new eReporting system. It has already been in service and received over 50% of companies’ information for 2014 before the Independent Administrator and MSG discuss the desired scope for the report covering that year. And the robustness of the system has not been checked by the Independent Administrator yet, even though it is already fully in use.
The EITI encourages countries to be innovative with their EITI. It will be interesting to see how the validators will assess this issue in the fall. One thing is sure: the launch of this online platform is already bearing fruit in stimulating public debate. Just ask Ganbat who tracks usage of the platform daily on Google Analytics!
We posted pictures about our Mongolia trip on our flickr page.