Transforming institutional quality in resource curse contexts: The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Myanmar
Many resource-rich countries face the paradoxical situation that their wealth in natural resources coincides with low economic and human development rates. To address this so-called resource curse, academics and practitioners turn their hopes to institutional quality. Yet whether, how and with what consequences institutional quality is transformed in resource curse contexts remains poorly understood, especially so at subnational levels. The most widely implemented initiative that seeks to address the resource curse through enhanced institutional quality is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). This article analyses to what extent and how the EITI transforms institutional quality at national and subnational levels in Myanmar, focusing on transparency, civil society participation and accountability. We show that many transformations go beyond the official EITI process and report. While the EITI report itself is not heavily used by civil society organisations (CSOs), the EITI process motivated CSOs to gather data and organise themselves both around and beyond EITI-related issues at subnational levels. Such participatory processes of constituting transparency improved relations between the (regional) government, CSOs and private companies, but also created new forms of in- and exclusion among civil society. While avenues opened up for CSOs to demand accountability regarding the impacts of resource extraction, the extent to which they are able to trigger action of extractive industry actors in their region remains limited. In conclusion, we argue that transformations in institutional quality are not characterised by a linear trajectory from transparency in the form of the EITI report to accountability, facilitated by civil society participation in EITI multi-stakeholder groups, as the EITI standard posits. Rather, transformations in institutional quality are characterised by spin-offs, dynamic interlinkages, trade-offs, limitations and a reinforcing cycle between participation and transparency within and beyond the EITI.