UK EITI multistakeholder group (MSG) - call for new civil society members

UK EITI multistakeholder group (MSG) – call for new civil society members

As most readers know, the UK is leading the way amongst developed nations in becoming full members of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The steering group of this process, the UK EITI MSG, is made up of 4 representatives each from government, companies and civil society. Each member appoints an alternate, too. The MSG is chaired by a non-voting government official and the government also provides the secretariat. It is a requirement of the EITI that governments commit to the process at the highest level, then follow on with a ministerial ‘champion’. The UK government has done this, with the full co-operation of the devolved administrations and the direct involvement of the Scottish Government. The present chair, who kindly launched the 2nd Annual Report in Aberdeen, is Margot James MP, Minister for Corporate Responsibility.

Each new EITI nation must show that it conforms to the EITI Standard by submitting two annual reports which are subsequently assessed by the EITI. This process usually takes around 4 years and the UK has completed it. Our reports will be assessed by Summer 2018.

The UK’s status has become more important since the recent withdrawal of the United States from seeking to be a complaint country (although it is still a ‘supporting’ country). The developed nations until now have supported the initiative financially but not complied with its requirements. Some nations, including Brazil and India, have refused to join partly on the basis that there was more than a whiff of modern imperialism about it. The UK government accepted the need for leadership in this respect and so committed to join. Germany has now also done so, although many ‘supporters’ continue risk the charge of hypocrisy by telling developed nations to ‘do as we say, not as we do’. That said, such countries are aware of the pressure upon them and hopefully they will seek to join in coming years. The UK, however, is now very much leading the way in encouraging developed nations to see the EITI as a relationship of equals, and not one where developing economies are lectured by richer nations which of course have their own flaws.

The UK’s progress has been excellent to date. However, there is a immediate need for the way civil society is represented to be legitimised and formalised. Government and companies are very easily defined and have their own means of choosing representatives to sit upon the MSGs and indeed the EITI international board, which operates to the same tripartite principles. Moreover, ‘constituencies’ must not intervene in each others selection mechanisms. Elements of civil society are in dispute, however, about how the UK MSG should recognise civil society representatives. The MSG is now proceeding to solve and settle this matter as soon as possible.

For the first two years of the MSG, from 2013-2015, civil society representatives were chosen by individual members of an informal Google group known as the ‘Civil Society Network’. This group was co-ordinated by a paid representative of Publish What You Pay UK. PWYP UK is not a legal entity but is affiliated to Publish What You Pay Ltd. Funding was provided by Global Witness.

From 2013-2015 civil society filled its requisite 4 places on the MSG, but never filled all the ‘alternate’ places. In 2015, an election took place to replace a departing MSG member and to fill unfilled ‘alternate’ places. Some individual network members had been unhappy that Publish What You Pay UK wholly controlled the nominating process which had to that date led them to nominate as non-temporary members only white, male employees of London-based PWYP-member NGOs. Moreover, at the time of the vote most such nominated members/alternates were staff of, or paid consultants of, Global Witness itself.  Given that most EITI activity involves developing nations at present, and the presence in the UK of many UK citizens with a strong background and interest in developing economies, the lack of diversity was especially stark.  The absence of appropriate gender representation was also an issue civil society needed to address but was not doing so. Accordingly, a white, male PWYP UK nominee was defeated by a woman of African heritage and all ‘alternate’ places were filled for the first time.

The response by the PWYP co-ordinator, and PWYP-member NGOs, to the election result was to close membership of the network to new members, then change the basis of full, voting membership to institutional and not individual. They then sought new elections. Although the network had until then been run under the principles of membership which now apply to the Open Government Network, PWYP members and co-ordinator said that it was never intended by them that the network be open to “mass individual membership”.  This action split MSG members and alternates evenly, with 2 full and 2 alternate members seeking to maintain the present rules of open membership (with transparency caveats) and an insistence of appropriate equalities policy on one side, and the PWYP members on the other.

What is presently known as ‘Civil Society Network’ is therefore an entirely different entity from prior to 2015. It now consists of 6 PWYP-member NGOs and 3 non-PWYP member NGOs. All senior staff of all of these entities are London-based and white; the great majority are men. The non-PWYP MSG members, on the other hand, formed a temporary new entity, Extractive Industries Civil Society (EICS) to continue to represent individual members and to implement an appropriate equalities policy. For full transparency, EICS was established as a UK not-for-profit. The two sides could not agree on a method of replacing civil society members.

Appointments to the MSG are for four years. Over time, all PWYP representatives resigned from the MSG following a trend for such representatives to move on as their jobs did. This left only EICS members as civil society representatives. This month, one such member reached the end of his term. This meant that unless civil society reached agreement upon how to nominate/elect new members then the UK EITI would become inquorate and the process, so successful to date and now more important than ever, would lapse.

The secretariat of the MSG, provided by the UK government but which conforms too EITI impartiality rules (not part of the UK government representative contingent upon the MSG), proposed a solution to MSG members and this was accepted. It is as follows:

PWYP/CSN and EICS will be asked to nominate, as temporary ‘nominating authorities’ an equal number of members and alternates to the MSG. New appointments will be temporary; for one year only. During that year, the MSG chair will work with all civil society members, and indeed all civil society organisations with an interest, to agree a mechanism for MSG recognition of civil society representatives. Nominations should be made in the first instance by mid-January 2018.

EICS fully agrees with the proposals and have agreed nominees with appropriate experience, diversity and gender balance. Our nominees are directly from local communities affected by the extractives sectors as required by the EITI Standard. Importantly, EICS will only serve this role once (including any replacements which may be required in the coming weeks and months). No-one will be nominated by virtue of being a volunteer at EICS. All nominees will come from community organisations with an interest in the extractive industries. At the conclusion of the MSG chair’s process, EICS will withdraw from direct involvement with the UK EITI MSG.

EICS believes that the best way ahead for UK civil society at the UK EITI MSG is for it to be co-ordinated along the lines of the original civil society network but with a clear and unambiguous equalities policy in place. The notion that UK communities affected by the extractive industries should be represented by uniformly white men at London-based international NGOs, many of which have little activity in the UK in any case, is wholly unacceptable.

We hope earnestly that PWYP/CSN member organisations will accept the need for an equalities policy which ensures all communities are properly represented at the UK MSG, will stop their boycott and nominate temporary members by January.

If any readers and members would like more information on how to be a UK MSG nominee as temporary places arise, please to let us know in any one of the usual ways.