The U.S. is gearing up to officially join a multinational movement for transparency in extractive industries, that offers bold and flexible powers for open, democratic public debate about extractive industries, in order to achieve goals of sustainable development, poverty reduction, and public accountability. The name of this movement is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). It started in 2003, with groups concerned about violence, oppression and poverty in Central and West Africa fueled by huge oil profits and political corruption. But, EITI has grown rapidly around the world (For details, see www.eiti.org). Over three dozen countries have officially entered the EITI, and, this May, France and England announced their intention to join.
We urgently need the public to participate in designing this process! I am a member of the Multistakeholder Group which is setting up the USEITI. Under the principles of EITI, we are mandated to seek broad public engagement, diverse perspectives and stakeholders, to create a USEITI process that fits American realities and needs. (The views in this article are my own, however, and do not necessarily reflect the Multistakeholder Group, or its civil society members.)
What would it mean if the U.S. joins EITI? The core activity of EITI is annual assessment of revenues from extractive industries (conducted by an independent auditor), with meticulous tracking of what government gets. The key goal of EITI is regular and transparent monitoring of extractive industries that helps public debate about best choices for sustainable development and prudent use of natural resources for the long-term well-being of citizens -- in order to avoid "negative economic and social impacts" when extractive industries are "not managed properly" (quotes taken from EITI PRINCIPLES).
Dangers & possibilities: The beauty and the danger of EITI is that it sets powerful, universal principles, and lets individual countries develop protocols for implementation that are adapted to national values and realities. The admirable EITI goals of democracy and accountability can be undercut if the public, in its diversity, are not truly at the table when national EITI protocols are designed. Also, there is a danger that the vast wealth and political power of extractive industries will tilt the table towards corporate interests. However, now that I understand the EITI international rules, I have concluded they are democratic enough to make EITI an exceptionally useful platform for communities and regions directly affected by extraction.
The first two meetings of the USEITI Multistakeholder Group (MSG) focused primarily on logistics, technicalities and group process. (See minutes of meetings and information on members of the group). But, on May 1-2 in Washington DC, our third meeting leapt into profound and urgent questions about the basic structures of U.S. economy and polity, especially regarding its energy infrastructures. We urgently need the general public, communities directly affected by extractive industries (such as coal, natural gas, uranium, etc.), and other stakeholders to help to catalyze broad and vibrant public debate about these complex questions. The next meeting of the USEITI Multi-Stakeholder Group, scheduled for June 12-13, will likely see discussion of the following critical questions:
EITI is not a treaty, but it is a form of participatory governance -- and one that is growing and changing as it is adapted to fit unique circumstances within diverse countries. The USEITI is being coordinated by the Department of Interior, under the rules of the Federal Advisory Committee Act which mandates that deliberations be open to the public, and that the public be able to participate. I invite you to contact me directly with answers to the questions above, or any other ideas or concerns about the EITI (MY EMAIL). In addition, there is always time allotted for public comment at our D.C. meetings -- in person, or by telephone. The U.S. Dept of Interior maintains a website with information about USEITI. Here is information as to how you can suggest new nominees to serve on the Multi-Stakeholder Group. Currently there are vacancies for government and industry representatives; civil society is also seeking reserve candidates to fill future vacancies. We need representation from communities and regions directly affected and grassroots movements.