History, or at least news, is on our side

The four biggest stories over the past year have arguably been:

  1. The global economic downturn – caused by borrowing, commodity price speculation and rising demand from emerging economies;
  2. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill – changing the dialogue about government-company responsibility;
  3. Wikileaks – shifting the boundaries of government transparency;
  4. Popular uprisings in several Arab countries – and the rising demand for accountablity based on increased information;  

It is an exciting time to be involved in transparency and accountability.  With popular uprisings in the news everyday, we have a sense that history, or at least the news, is on our side, and a sense of the importance of open government and open business.  Supporting these values has proven more robust than just supporting stability for stability’s sake.  

It is also an exciting time to be in involved in the extractive industries.  Demand from China and the emerging economies, and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, are pushing prices higher and higher.  Western governments are considering legislation to impose more country-by-country transparency on their companies.  Whatever happens, we must continue with the EITI which is the only mechanism to ensure that the information is discussed in the countries that matter.  Country-by-country data collected in New York, London and Frankfurt is one thing.  Discussion on those figures in Kinshasa, Jakarta and Lima will assure national accountability.

We’ve come a long way since two years ago when the EITI only seemed to be about the resource curse.  The focus is still on natural resource governance, corruption and accountability. I expect that, at the Conference, the new reforming presidents like Rosa Otunbaeva and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be saying that natural resource governance is critical in building a viable nation.

Bono and others have also been bigging up the Conference in the light of present campaigning on mandatory discloure legislation in the EU.   Bono reckons that natural resource transparency is the next big thing in development – bigger than debt cancellation.  President Sarkozy is leading the charge for increased commodity transparency and a greater focus on corruption within the G20 and the EU, and I expect his Finance and Foreign to emphasise that at the Conference. 

The corruption, transparency and accountability debates will not go away and we now understand them better than ever before.  In the EITI, countries, companies and citizens, have a practical local mechanism to deliver accountability that is working, but still has a long way to go.

Eddie RIch is Deputy Head and Regional Director at the EITI International Secretariat.