Right questions – but not necessarily the right answers

EITI International Secretariat response to the latest MSI Integrity report on MSG Governance.

The Secretariat welcomes the efforts by MSI Integrity to focus on the governance of MSGs and to consider in detail the practices of so many of them in their report, Protecting the Cornerstone: Assessing the Governance of EITI Multi-Stakeholder Groups.

Summary of the response

In each of the 48 countries implementing the EITI there is a multi-stakeholder group (MSG), or EITI national implementation commission. These MSGs have to be comprised of government, companies and civil society representatives. Well over 1000 persons serve on MSGs. In accordance with the EITI Standard, which sets out the minimum requirements that all EITI member countries have to adhere to, MSGs are tasked to oversee the national implementation of the EITI. The EITI Standard lays down some basic rules for how these MSGs should be governed, including for example stating that meetings should be called with sufficient notice and that each MSG needs to agree a Terms of Reference for its work. Efforts have been made to refrain from detailed provisions as many detailed requirements can undermine national ownership.

The EITI Secretariat agrees with many of the findings in MSI Integrity report, for example on issues such as the need to put an end to excessive per diems. In fact, the Secretariat broadly agrees with MSI Integrity’s finding. However, the Secretariat questions many of the conclusions and recommendations. Each global requirement on how these groups should govern themselves may be individually justified, but taken together they may create an avalanche of requirements significantly undermining the ownership and ultimately be detrimental to the effectiveness of the MSGs.

EITI International Secretariat welcomes the report and its findings

MSI Integrity identifies a number of challenges in existing governance systems around the EITI family that require further work. The report’s in-depth exploration of per diem practices for example is both timely and important. The emphasis on increasing transparency on matters of governance is something that we take strongly to heart.

But MSG governance is not an end in itself

However, we are concerned that the report loses sight of the ultimate purpose of the EITI. Good governance is treated as an end in itself and is not assessed in relation to what it is meant to achieve. This is unfortunate, not because governance and process are not important but because in our experience a rigid institutional framework does not necessarily lead to better results. The report highlights the weaknesses of the Cameroon process, yet the Cameroon EITI Reports have been instrumental in informing the public about key aspects of the sector such as the operations of the state-owned oil company and the legal framework for the artisanal sector. In other EITI countries, much stronger multi-stakeholder governance has had little impact on strengthening record keeping systems or on informing public debate.

Some basic governance requirements are necessary

Clearly, some governance requirements are needed for an effective process – as envisioned in requirement 1 which obliges each MSG to have arrangements for nominating and changing members, decisions, duration of terms, frequency of meeting, sufficient notice of meetings timely circulation of documents, record keeping, etc. However, there needs to be room for evolution. We therefore disagree with recommendation 1 on page xiv that MSGs should be required to develop comprehensive internal governance processes before commencing reporting process. Surely we need to encourage tangible outputs alongside getting the governance arrangements right – does the furniture need to be perfectly in place before you sit on the sofa? Our experience is that many MSGs have almost dragged themselves into a halt with internal governance and stakeholders losing patience, before starting the reporting process rather than the other way round. The EITI Board is a good example of this; just because it continues to refine its governance systems does not mean that it has not been able to make progress.

Our experience is that multi-stakeholder governance is dynamic. Power relations are not static. Civil society space has generally opened up and certainly citizens have become better informed because of the process, not as a pre-condition. Time and again, civil society in the implementing countries value the platform for dialogue that the EITI provides even in cases where the wider space for their activities is narrowing. Over-institutionalising systems constrains this dynamism. Indeed, the report fails to recognise that EITI was hard won. Whilst it is important that we continue to be ambitious, the EITI’s achievements, especially for civil society, should not be taken as a given. Recognising how far the EITI has contributed to more space for civil society on a dynamic basis is surely as important for lesson learning as pointing out the gaps.

Global requirements vs. country ownership

Piling on many strict requirements can also undermine national ownership. Striking a balance between global requirements and national ownership and adaptation strikes us as core to the success of the EITI. Each global requirement may be justified, but taken together they may create an avalanche of requirements that significantly undermine the effort and, in this case, the ownership. While we will never know how many countries would implement the EITI had MSI Integrity’s approach been followed, it would seem reasonable to acknowledge that following MSI Integrity’s approach is likely to have come at a price of many countries not having signed up to the process in the first place or walked away when the requirements appeared too rigid for diverse scenarios. The EITI has to remain an attractive process for the countries where it is most needed.

Seeking requirements for ‘good enough governance’

The above made arguments are not meant to be an excuse for poor governance. There are no excuses for poor governance. Weak governance needs however to be understood. Requiring perfect systems can undermine the desired outcomes. What the EITI requirements seek is what is often called in development theory: ‘good enough governance’.

Identifying and promoting good practices is more in agreement with the spirit of national ownership on which the EITI builds. Rather than policing how MSGs conduct their work (process), we prefer to see our role as one of helping them find the best possible solutions given the requirements in the Standard and the local limitations (improving outcomes). The EITI Board has recently approved a number of tools, including a Civil Society Protocol, that will further strengthen the robustness of Validation on these matters. Others, like the recently adopted EITI Code of Conduct, should make it easier for MSG members to hold each other accountable for their actions.

Although we disagree with the over-emphasis that the report places on top-down approaches to governance and the need for increased policing, this report is a reminder to all of us at the EITI that transparency, accountability and consultation are important not just for the good governance of the industry, but also for how the EITI functions in each of the 48 implementing countries.