Country-to-country partnerships will need care and maintenance to deliver on promises.
Isabel Munilla is Senior Policy Advisor, Extractive Industries at Oxfam America.
When I got my start in the Publish What You Pay movement as the Director of its US coalition in early 2010, I would have never imagined that only three years out, the leaders of conservative governments would publicly embrace our global call and the G8 would wholeheartedly embrace our agenda. Seventy-four percent of the global oil, gas and mining market will disclose what they pay to governments. In addition, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) revised its rules in May to ensure its disclosure requirements are consistent with Cardin-Lugar and EU laws. The tide has turned.
With civil society doing its part, it’s heartening to see G8 governments show leadership on this agenda with newly-announced “partnerships on extractives” between G8 member states and natural resource-rich countries to “support national development plans” and tackle transparency challenges. At an “Open for Growth” panel event with African leaders held on the eve of the G8, David Cameron announced the UK is leading a partnership with Ghana. Other partnerships announced include: Burkina Faso with France; Colombia with the EU (led by the European Commission); Mongolia with Germany; Peru and Tanzania with Canada; Guinea and Burma/Myanmar with the US. A partnership between Mozambique and Italy had been in the works, but was not ready for prime time. Conspicuously absent from this announcement were Japan and Russia.
How can we be sure to make them a success, and avoid “open washing” partnerships that look great on paper and in the press but deliver little? Here are five ways:
1. Country partners should “walk the talk” and be transparent about the nature of the partnerships, i.e. who is in charge, who has been consulted, what will be achieved, and how results should be measured. It’s difficult for citizen monitors to hold G8 and their partner countries to account, if the intended beneficiaries don’t know what the partnerships entail. The US made a good start, putting out a press release and online action plans for partnerships with Guinea and Burma/Myanmar. There is very general information available for other partnerships, and for some, no public information at all.
2. G8 commercial interests must not interfere or be perceived to interfere with the interests of citizens. There are potential conflicts between helping countries monitor the tax disclosure practices of companies and promoting the investments of their companies in these countries. Some of the draft partnership plans documented that some G8 countries consulted with their leading multinational in the partner country, with little evidence that the proposed plan had been discussed with local stakeholders. I am hopeful that the reason we have not yet seen these plans online is because they are being vetted locally. If this is the case, then G8 countries should make this clear.
3. Partnerships must be participatory and inclusive, especially by those who bear the brunt of the impacts of development. G8 governments must ensure that the voices, rights and needs of poor and marginalized communities are represented in the reforms envisioned by these partnerships, working across government and across stakeholders. The US circulated its draft plan for comment to select civil society in Burma, but more needs to be done to ensure local ownership and support. Other countries must also be clear about what consultations have happened, and what consultations will happen.
4. G8 members must stand up for human rights defenders and reform advocates in these countries, and support capacity-building for civil society. A free, informed and educated civil society is essential to sustained pressure for policy reform. The EITI theory of change—that disclosure will lead to greater public debate and accountability for the use of natural resources and their revenues—is built on the assumption that citizens are free to foster that debate and push for greater accountability, without fear of reprisals. It specifically recognizes the importance of protecting civil society and its space to operate and its new rules require implementing countries to address “obstacles to civil society engagement” and “ensure that adequate conditions exist for the participation of civil society organizations.” Since all of the countries are involved or have committed to be involved in EITI, support from G8 countries to protect civil society’s role is crucial.
5. G8 leaders should secure the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities affected by extractives projects prior to the approval of these projects, by working with their partner countries to strengthen policies for governments and companies.
True political reform only happens when there is homegrown demand that makes the reform sustainable over the long-term – top-down reforms efforts alone rarely deliver results. This is precisely the reason I decided to take my new job with Oxfam and it’s what is at the top of my agenda as I head to Ghana next month to meet with partners in the Publish What You Pay coalition. I’ll be conducting trainings on the Dodd-Frank and EU disclosures, and I expect to learn a great deal from civil society leaders on how they plan to put these disclosures to work for Ghana.