“Walking the talk” of EITI

With one-third of the 35 implementing countries now compliant and many more working toward compliance in 2011, “what comes after validation?” was a recurring theme today. 

At the same time, there was a palpable sense that we cannot move on without securing the gains made so far and addressing weaknesses to ensure EITI’s sustainability.

Commentators from many camps stressed that much work remains to be done to address the prevailing “information asymmetry” among stakeholders at all levels of decision-making, especially among citizens.

Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion highlighted the need for “full, free and informed consent” as to how each country’s finite natural resource wealth is spent and invested-- one of five links in the value chain that must be prevented from breaking if EITI is to mature and thrive. Liberia is a case in point.

Of the 11 compliant countries, Liberia holds the record for the fastest candidate-to-compliant evolution.

How did they do it?

Firm political will from top leadership to be sure. But, the other deciding factor was the effort, enthusiasm, and purposefulness the MSG showed in reaching out to each district across the country to ensure that people were informed and engaged using communication approaches that made EITI accessible to them. A Liberian Senator credited their success to the fact that Liberia is one of but a handful of countries to have a thorough communication strategy to guide their engagement with communities. 

As new EITI rules put increasing focus on the sub-national level, correcting information asymmetry and deepening engagement in local communities will be crucial. As Liberia so convincingly has shown, effective sub-national engagement cannot be done without the communication planning and resources to back it up. That will require commitment not only on the part of the MSGs, but also that of the Multi-Donor Trust Fund and others, including extractives companies, to ensure that adequate resources are available to support the full scope of communication needs—from creating the strategies to implementing them across sometimes vast countries such as Indonesia, a newly approved candidate country of some 14,000 islands.

Other areas of the EITI process need to be revisited as well. For example, despite the fact that communication cuts across several validation criteria, validation teams rarely include an evaluator with EITI communication expertise. Neither do reports typically go into sufficient detail to evaluate whether a country’s awareness-raising and engagement work is adequate to make citizens partners in deciding how to use the revenue that is reported. Indeed, because they are highly competitive and therefore cost-sensitive, validation engagements are a bit of a race to the bottom-- seldom if ever allowing validators to travel to extractives communities to see how well the MSG has succeeded in informing and engaging sub-national stakeholders and empowering local communities to use the EITI information to “take their destiny into their own hands” as more than one commentator put it today.

Quite rightly, Clare Short closed the conference today by saying, “we’ve got to get information into the hands of the people to hold governments to account.” Current validation practice does not do enough to hold countries accountable for that core element of EITI.

HE Henri de Raincourt, France’s Minister for Cooperation in his remarks at the end of the conference took that a step further noting that “some of the revolts happening now are revolts against a lack of transparency” and “the circulation of information gives people an insurmountable force.” 

Looking ahead based on Liberia’s positive experience and the less encouraging experience of other countries not yet compliant there is much broader recognition that while the reports may be the heart of the EITI and the MSGs its soul, public awareness-raising and community dialogue are the blood that circulates the oxygen that keeps EITI alive, continually ‘feeding’ each country process. This is by no means to say that EITI is on life support, but that some “prevent-ilation” is needed to ensure the vitality of the process. 

In a passionate address today, Alfred Brownell a seasoned activist and veteran of Liberia’s citizen engagement work put it this way, it is not sustainable to continue “raising pigs”, throwing them food from time to time to keep them quiet. The “new heart of EITI” is ensuring that not only CSOs have a place at the table, but that citizens themselves-- the ultimate beneficiaries of natural resource wealth and thus of EITI— are fully empowered to help decide the priorities for how their resource wealth is spent or invested. 

To truly “walk the talk” of EITI, implementing countries should follow Liberia’s lead with their own pro-active, comprehensive public awareness-raising and on-going public dialogue.

Tim is an independent consultant and senior advisor to governments, NGOs and the private sector on stakeholder engagement strategies, advocay and media relations.  He helped write the EITI guide to communication, Talking Transparency and just returned from Tanzania where he prepared the TEITI communication strategy.