Here's a worthwhile initiative I may not have mentioned yet that should nevertheless gain more attention for the work it does. I suppose that it's only fitting that an initiative that was launched by Tony Blair (in 2002) should now be chaired by none other than his bete noire Clare Short. If you remember, Clare Short was the international development secretary (head of DfID) from when New Labour took the reins of power in 1997 to May 2003 when she resigned this post to indicate her disgust over UK participation in the Iraq invasion. Those were some days; dare I say when Brits still used to dream about the future.
In the meantime, let it not be said that the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has been less than active. Devised to help follow the money in mineral-rich countries--it is hoped that doing so will help reduce chances for corruption and channel revenues to more productive purposes. That is, to reduce the resource curse so common to countries blessed with abundant resources.
Something promising is that mining firms are actually calling for EITI to monitor activities in countries where they have mining operations--a phenomenon similar to that in any number of other industries such as tea production (the Ethical Tea Partnership). Here is a snippet from a recent interview of Clare Short:
In your own work with international development issues, you have occasionally been a severe critic of extractive industries in developing countries. Can you now say that there are positive signs of a genuine will among oil and mining companies to change their behaviour and to be more open in their dealings – especially when working amid the weaker regulatory environments of developing countries?
There are many places where resource extraction has not delivered adequate benefits to local people. It remains true that resource-rich countries on average have more poverty than comparable non-resource rich countries.
A growing number of companies have woken up to the reality that in order to succeed in the long term, transparency is the way to go. They have learned the hard way about the risk involved in operating in countries where there is little trust and also the risk of corrupt practices which breach their domestic law. To mitigate these risks, and because they know that it is the right thing to do, companies are now working with governments and civil society in organisations such as EITI. In several countries, it is the extractive companies that are calling upon the national governments to act more transparently, and to implement the EITI standard.
I’m encouraged by the number of companies that are supporting EITI. I hope that this is a reflection of a desire to be part of the solution. But there are still many companies that do not really favour transparency and are only willing to permit very limited reporting, and maybe see the EITI as a fig leaf rather than a route to full transparency. Of course, governments can require fuller reporting, and some are doing so.
It's me here again. Also note that while EITI may not receive much press notice in North America, it is being widely implemented, with 35 countries signing up to it and a dozen having already being declared EITI-compliant...
Would you expect EITI compliance to become a global standard any time soon?
With 35 countries implementing the EITI [standard] and more joining, EITI is making good progress towards becoming a global standard. It is critical that countries don’t just stop at compliance: they can use the EITI platform to debate wider issues affecting their country. That might be bidding, contracting, operating, allocating or spending. It might be that the reports can go deeper to list payment-by-payment, or physical volumes or sales. It might be that the principles can be applied to other sectors – for example, forestry, fisheries or agriculture. We are seeing innovations in countries that really want to use the EITI as a route to better management of the whole of their extractive sector, thus improving the benefits of the sector to the citizens of their countries. To me, that is even more important than being a global standard.
One hopes this tough, principled Brummie politician is just what the EITI needs to move its programmes forward.