As I prepare to leave my position as Executive Director of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), I am also reflecting on how the natural resource governance space has changed in the last six years. I have remained constantly engaged with the EITI in some form or another, throughout my time at PWYP, and I can safely say that the civil society engagement with EITI, and other constituencies' response to it, has never been better. This doesn’t mean we always agree but we are increasingly focusing discussion on the areas of resource governance that have real relevance on the ground, and doing this in a constructive manner.
Where else but within the context of the EITI can companies, governments and - crucially - civil society come together to discuss equitable and responsible management of natural resources on an equal footing? Whilst two years of being unable to meet face-to-face, take time to discuss sticky issues over dinner or late at night in the hotel bar, has taken its toll, the spirit of cooperation is still alive and well among the EITI constituencies. And it needs to be! Together we have hugely complex and challenging issues to overcome to ensure a better deal for citizens in resource-rich countries.
The EITI and PWYP both celebrate their 20th anniversary this year – and there is much to be proud of. We have managed to convene on average three times a year at EITI Board meetings, together with oil, gas and mining companies and governments, to build an ever more sophisticated and robust standard for the good governance of extractive resources. That’s no small feat – just picture Shell and Chevron executives sitting together with grassroots activists from Nigeria to the Philippines, and government officials from the 50+ EITI implementing countries. At the country level, PWYP member organisations are actively engaged through multi-stakeholder groups to ensure implementation of the evolving standard. Working together at global and national levels, the constituencies have ensured that the EITI strengthens its approach on issues that matter, like contract transparency, project-level reporting, beneficial ownership transparency and the implementation of ownership registers.
Most recently, the Board recognised that companies supporting the EITI needed to “walk the talk” – i.e. to promote, rather than undermine – rules that align with the initiative’s core transparency and anticorruption aims. This is an important step forward that was taken as a result of a complaint brought forward by PWYP US and a prime example of civil society’s crucial role as watchdog, holding the EITI accountable to itself. However, there are concerns that EITI companies could continue to lobby against the EITI Standard or principles without much consequence, even if they sit on the Board of the initiative. My hope is that next time an EITI supporting company is found to be acting contrary to the spirit of the EITI, it will be quickly removed from the Board. The EITI simply can’t afford to have corporate laggards in leadership roles on its governance body.
I haven’t attended a single EITI Board meeting that didn’t include a heated discussion on civic space. Inherent to the EITI Standard is a recognition that civil society must be able to participate freely and without reprisal in EITI implementation including scrutinising relevant laws, regulations and administrative rules pertaining to natural resource governance. Yet, time and time again, civil society groups face severe pushback from the authorities in many EITI implementing countries, including when using EITI data as evidence of potential wrongdoings in the sector. And worryingly, from time to time, the EITI Board struggles to apply its own rules of suspension – including suspending countries found to have restricted civic space around the EITI process. It is my hope that in the future, the Board will consistently recognise the need to follow its own rules when it comes to suspension, to ensure the EITI doesn’t become a box-ticking exercise by autocratic regimes, without any impact in bringing about meaningful policy and governance reforms in the extractives sector. And civil society has a huge role to play here, the wealth or information that comes to light through validation processes is immensely useful to hold the powerful to account. We campaigned for it, let’s use it!
In the next few years, the energy transition will have a profound impact on the extractive sector, as the energy sector moves away from fossil fuels. We at PWYP have recognised this by adopting the movement’s first global position on the energy transition and calling for a fair, transparent and accountable transition process. The EITI too has an important role to play in supporting resource-rich countries in adapting to the new reality and in ensuring that the boom in demand for transition minerals doesn’t lead to a new wave of the resource curse. As a transparency initiative, the EITI also ought to leverage its expertise to expose and address the climate-related financial risks of existing and planned oil, gas and coal projects.
There have always been concerns from other constituencies that the EITI is evolving too rapidly, that countries are struggling to implement existing requirements, that resources are too limited. I understand these reservations, but now is not the time to recoil at the obstacles ahead. The evolving challenges of this sector wait for no one – we need bolder leadership for better natural resource governance. The climate crisis is a call to action for all stakeholders invested in the EITI, including donors like the World Bank, to level up, not level off. Because ultimately we all engage in the EITI, not simply to talk and find consensus, but to ensure a better world for the citizens of resource-rich countries.