PERSPECTIVE ON CIVIL SOCIETY INVOLVEMENT IN THE WORK OF EITI
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) represent a global standard to promote open and accountable management of natural resources and seek to strengthen government and company systems, inform public debate, and enhance trust. It prides itself in the multi stakeholder approach where its implementation process involves partnership from governments, companies and civil society working together.
But recent happenings suggest a relegation of this cherished principle and approach to the extent that civil society participation in the EITI process, particularly, in the selection of their representation in EITI board – the highest governing body of EITI. This played out during the EITI International Conference, which took place February 2016, in Lima, Peru. At the conference, civil society groups objected to what they described as interference in their ability to speak out and choose their own representatives on the EITI global board, and the objection reached a boiling point as chants of “We will not be silent!” and “No number 6!” echoed throughout the conference hall. The contention was an alleged move to railroad an unpopular candidate on it board thereby bypassing the normal selection criteria for the EITI board.
So, it was reported that more than 100 civil society representatives decided to boycott the members’ meeting should the additional candidate’s name remain in contention. According to a release by Publish What You Pay, even though the sixth name was eventually withdrawn by the nominating organisation during the member’s meeting, it was done in a manner and on a timeframe that made it impossible for civil society to rejoin the meeting. PWYP describe the situation as contrary to the spirit and principles of EITI, and constituted a breach of the governance process and a gross disregard for the trust they have worked to establish over the past decade. During the event, EITI International Board adopted the 2016 EITI Standard, which includes a strengthened Civil Society Protocol to ensure that civil society can fully and freely participate in EITI processes. But PWYP further noted that the principles enshrined in that Protocol have been violated which calls for great concern as it sets a dangerous precedent for meaningful independent civil society engagement in national EITI processes.
According to a recent statement by Oxfam America, “If such a shameful scene can transpire at the EITI International Conference with the eyes of the world watching, you can only imagine what is happening at the national level”. Oxfam America’s President Ray Offenheiser was quoted to have said that civil society groups are under attack around the world citing instances from Guatemala to Cambodia, from Azerbaijan to Equatorial Guinea and right there in Peru, where citizens, activists and journalists are being harassed, jailed and killed in defense of their lands and their fight against corruption.
The statement from Oxfam America further stressed that “Effective participation in initiatives, consultation and consent processes and government engagement depends on the protection of freedom of association, assembly and speech”. According to Oxfam, the principle of self-selection for civil society around the world is under threat and that EITI needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Interestingly, the situation in Nigeria is different where the President has recently re-constituted the National Stakeholders Working Group (NSWG), the governing board of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The previous board was dissolved in 2015 by President Buhari and there was a slight delay in re-constituting the NSWG, a situation that almost affected the country’s revalidation process because the 2013 audit report could not be officially released without the NSWG on board. Stakeholders including ANEEJ and PWYP Nigeria have commended Nigerian government for responding to the calls to act in that direction.
The Nigeria government has also proved a point by giving civil society organizations the opportunity to choose their representative to the new NSWG, and stakeholders have equally commended the president for this move describing it as a welcome development.
Even though some have raised concerns the president is yet include a representative of oil and gas sector in the new boars and that the new Executive Secretary was not recommended by the NSWG, the Nigerian government deserve commendation because of the decision to re-constitute the board and providing the enabling environment for civil society organization to choose and present their representative. Perhaps, these emerging issues that have been raised could be re-visited and addressed by the president either presently or in the future. The only question now is that will civil society organizations be able to organize themselves peacefully to present an acceptable representative? Only time will tell.
The lesson in all this is that it is important that any decision reach by EITI should reflect the inputs from all three constituencies fully involved as a process that does not receive the endorsement of the multi-stakeholder group will be setting a very dangerous precedent.
It is equally important to emphasize that the only way to protect the voice of civil society in the EITI process is to allow them to choose their representative either at local or global level, anything short of that will contribute to the destruction of the EITI in terms of its principles, standard and public perception.
Then, a very big task awaits the new EITI Chair, that is, he should immediately commence talks and negotiation with the Publish What You Pay Global movement to save the EITI brand because the movement represents an important stakeholder in the EITI process.
Innocent Edemhanria, Programme Officer, ANEEJ