The EITI government network on contract transparency was launched at the EITI Global Conference in Paris.
Governments from Armenia, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, São Tomé and Príncipe and Zambia have joined the network. This coincided with the EITI Board’s ratification of the 2019 EITI Standard which now requires that contracts entered into or amended from 1 January 2021 should be published. The network aims to champion contract transparency globally and nationally, share best practices on contract disclosures, and explore solutions to challenges. At the group’s first meeting at the sidelines of the conference, members of the network discussed the issues that they intend to prioritise.
Securing political commitment- While over 30 countries are now publishing contracts, the level of disclosures vary. In some instances, only a few contracts are published on a voluntary basis without any systematic way of disclosing them. This is a reflection of the lack of firm political commitment to open up contracts. The members of the network aim to show leadership on this agenda and rally support from other governments to make contract transparency the default practice.
Adopting a legal framework—Several members of the network, including Nigeria and Ghana expressed the need for legislation to support their work on contract transparency. Confidentiality provisions prohibiting publication is an issue that members of the network agreed to explore further, drawing from the experience of other countries that have successfully overcome this challenge like Guyana. Some network members shared that reliance on confidentiality clauses to prevent disclosure should be addressed by having a detailed analysis of what these clauses state. Oftentimes, the scope of these clauses extend to geographical data but not to other information that are more of interest to the public such as fiscal obligations.
Understanding contracts— Contract transparency is not an end in itself. For countries that have already published contracts, the next challenge is to ensure that citizens understand complex contractual stipulations that directly affect them. Members of the network, including Mongolia and the Philippines discussed how contract disclosure should be complemented by educating citizens on how to analyse contracts and use them to monitor compliance with contractual obligations.
Means of disclosure—The practice of online contract disclosure is gaining traction in many EITI countries. While some countries like Mexico and Cameroon are publishing contracts through government websites, others like DRC and Ghana have established dedicated portals for contracts. Members of the network agreed that means of access is as important as what is actually disclosed. Mongolia mentioned that the challenge of finding relevant provisions in long and dense contracts could be minimised if they are published in ways that are user friendly. The Philippines include in their portal further contextual information to aid further analysis. Some African countries disseminate visuals and comic books to explain contracts.
The shift in the discourse in recent years from “whether or not to publish” to “what and how to publish” contracts is a major win for advocates of transparency in the extractive sector. The 2019 EITI Standard could very well provide the impetus for the national reforms that are needed for full contract disclosure to become a global norm.