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'We’re seeing enormous changes in the contract transparency landscape'

'We’re seeing enormous changes in the contract transparency landscape'

Rob Pitman works as a governance officer for NRGI, where he leads organisational advocacy and research on contract transparency and manages the use of the Natural Resource Charter as a tool to structure analysis and dialogue. He is a co-author of the Natural Resource Charter Benchmarking Framework.

We spoke with Rob on the sidelines of the EITI’s gathering of key partner organisations, dedicated to discussing priorities for strengthening extractive industry governance, which was held in Oslo in September 2018.

What do you do and is there a project you are currently working on that you're particularly excited about?

I work on a range of issues in the governance team of the NRGI. Our team specialises in advancing global standards in the extractive industries. My specific remit is contract transparency and transparency around licensing and contracting processes.

There are a couple of things I’m really excited about at the moment. One of them is the enormous change that we’re seeing in the contract transparency landscape. In the last 10 years we’ve gone from a situation where less than 10 countries had laws requiring contract transparency, to a situation today where there are 27 around the world. It’s a remarkable change. There are now 44 countries that disclose contracts around the world, and over half the EITI member countries have disclosed at least some contracts. I think we’re at a point where we can really start thinking about global standards on this issue.

A second thing I’m very excited about is the issue of contracting and subcontracting, which is very underlooked in the international governance community, but incredibly important. Just to give a sense of how significant this is, we estimate that depending on the project and the sector and the phase of the project, somewhere between 50-90% of costs actually go to contractors and subcontractors. Countless scandals like Odebrecht and Unaoil show that these relationships can be used to by rights holders to carry out mischief or engage in corruption. We’re currently doing some frontier research in which we hope to find appropriate ways in which we can shine a light on contractors and subcontractors. We hope that in doing so we can find new ways to help change the sector for the better.

How is the EITI’s work and data relevant to your work?

EITI is at the heart of so much of our work. One of the biggest challenges you find in any kind of reform in the extractive industries is getting governments, companies and civil society to agree. EITI is often the only forum in a country where that can happen. So the process is absolutely critical to making change happen and finding that compromise you need to progress. The reports can be very difficult to read, but depending on the country they can be a wonderful source of information. Whether I’m going to a new country or doing research on a country I know well, I’ll always read the latest EITI report to try to get a sense of the industry, the legal framework and reforms that are coming up.

What are the policy areas the EITI should prioritise in the run up to next year's Global Conference?

Contract transparency is going to be a really important issue. We’re seeing a lot of general excitement within civil society and there’s a huge amount of change happening within host governments - so many of them are passing laws requiring contracts to be public, and so many of them are actually disclosing. The final part of the puzzle is the companies. This past year, we’ve seen 18 companies make commitments to disclose contracts or to support the idea of disclosing contracts in some form. Seven out of nine of the EITI board members have made a statement in favour of contract transparency in some form. We’re getting to that point where opinions are beginning to align on this issue that once was a lot more contentious than it is now. There’s potential to make some real progress on this in 2019.