What a difference a year makes

LAC countries in 2013 seem readier than ever to embrace the EITI, writes EITI's Francisco Paris.

When more than 200 participants from 16 Latin-American and Caribbean (LAC) countries gathered in Bogota on 19 November to discuss transparency and accountability in the region’s extractive sectors, the feeling could have not been more different than from just a year ago.

An old mantra

A mantra often heard in the region’s capitals, especially those in the middle-income countries, has been “I’ll implement the EITI the day the rich countries do more than just support it and promote it”. Listening to Gregory Gould, member of the United States’ EITI multi-stakeholder group, and Director of the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, share how his country is advancing its Candidature application through a rigorous yet not different-to-others process was exciting. He also elaborated on the many challenges the US faces with preparing for implementation. UK representative, Tony Regan, Deputy Head of the British mission in Bogota, reminded us of his government’s strong commitment to the EITI shown in UK leadership in the G8, G20, the more recent Open Government Partnership, but especially through the UK’s own implementation. I guess when the many Conference participants brief their colleagues back home, the old mantra will sound dissonant.

A new message

During this Conference, a different kind of message emerged. Participants from more than a dozen countries, from Uruguay to Suriname to Dominican Republic and Mexico, representing civil society, governments and companies, took the floor to acknowledge how they all were heading home with the message that the EITI is worth discussing. They left Bogota eager to take the discussion home and, in various degrees, were sanguine about the EITI serving as a useful tool for their, very different, countries’ circumstances.

A non-coincidental location

The Government of Colombia hosted the Conference and this was not a coincidence. Colombia’s preparation to implement the EITI is vibrant, robust and in many ways, unprecedented in the region. Civil society is carefully organising themselves to participate in the EITI. Industry, both on the well-developed oil side and on the mining side are resolute about how the EITI will contribute to a sound monitoring of the extractive sectors. Both Alejandro Martinez, president of the Colombian Oil Association, and Raul Buitrago from the Big Scale mining Association could have not been clearer about this in the many discussions during the Conference. Similarly, Minister of Mines Amylkar Acosta very eloquently said, using a well-known adage in the region, that the EITI is all about having “cuentas claras and chocolate espeso”. This means the EITI is all about accountability and this is it!

All in all, the Bogota Conference left all of us in the EITI family more encouraged than ever that the EITI is poised to be able to contribute to, paraphrasing the Norwegian Ambassador Lars Vaagen, “ensuring that resource wealth benefits all than rather the few”. What a difference a year makes: LAC countries in 2013 seem readier than ever to embrace the EITI as a tool to make this a reality.