The role of citizens in ensuring transparency and accountability in the extractive industry was highlighted on Wednesday when members of the Multi-Stakeholder Group for the Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GYEITI) met with residents of Bartica.
As part of the group’s outreach activities, it visited Bartica and met a small gathering that included residents as well as Mayor Gifford Marshall, Deputy Mayor Kamal Persaud and Regional Chairman Gordon Bradford.
National Coordinator of the GYEITI, Rudy Jadoopat, made a presentation about the history of Guyana’s path to becoming a member of the EITI. While the local counterpart is currently not a member as yet, Jadoopat explained that by August 6, the group will be submitting its first report and application, which are going to be reviewed at the international body’s meeting some ten weeks later. Should the application be approved, the country would become a member by the end of the year.
The EITI is a global organisation of around 50 member countries, which have subscribed to establishing, upholding and promoting the standards and tenets of good governance, transparency and accountability in the management of extractive industries.
Gillian Pollard, a representative of the government on the Multi-Stakeholder Group, said, “As we go through the process of EITI, in order for the process to work well, we may need to make some changes at the very top of the scale and at the very bottom of the scale and one of the things we may need to change is our legislative framework.” She explained that the way the legislation currently exists may “actually be a thing that hampers” the implementation of the EITI.
While it is an issue that is faced by many countries implementing the initiative, Pollard pointed out that they recognised the possible hindrance and made it part of their mandate to review their legislative agendas and make changes where it would reform and improve the operations of the EITI.
She also pointed out that the initiative, which she said is “very inclusive,” cannot work unless there is active participation between industry, government and civic society. “…Companies disclose information and they give you their payments and the government discloses what they received and everything goes into a report which is made public,” she said, while pointing out that it becomes everyone’s responsibility to act as watchdogs for what will be going on in the extractive industry.
She explained that while accountability, transparency and integrity will be talked about a lot, it is the nature of the EITI to force countries to be transparent and to be accountable but this cannot be achieved without involving civil society. “The process will not work without the involvement of civic society, your involvement,” she added.
She emphasised that the partnership between the government, civic society and industry has to be equal. However, she explained that in that particular relationship, she is of the opinion that civic society is paramount, since everyone that falls under it will likely have an interest in ensuring that the extractive industry becomes more beneficial for “us and the benefit of our grandchildren.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that whatever we do with these resources we benefit today, tomorrow and way into the future,” she said, while adding that the government has made its commitment to ensure that the initiative works.
While the GYEITI will be responsible for compiling information about the extractive industry and payments made from companies to government and payments government receive from companies, Pollard highlighted that at the end of the day it is up to the citizens to use the information that will be readily made available to drive policy changes.
She said it is all useless unless citizens and all other stakeholders stand by the report and ensure that changes are made based on the recommendations so that the sector, region, town and entire country can be improved.
“You need to use the report in that way. The other thing that happens under the EITI is the whole thing about reconciling what the company pays and what the government says they receive,” she noted, while pointing out that as countries adhere to the initiative, it brings a sense of respect, accountability and transparency, which aids in attracting investors and improving investors’ confidence.
“Once again, I am saying that these things cannot work without the government, industry and private sector participating together. It will not work with one part of the triangle,” she added.
Accompanying the group, Jason Calder, country representative of the Carter Center, made a presentation about the viability of having the initiative in Guyana. He explained that while the EITI is a voluntary initiative and becomes part of the overall governance and anti-corruption framework, it doesn’t do everything.
“It doesn’t replace other things. It is a piece of the puzzle and that is a really important thing to understand. EITI will do certain things but it won’t do other things. It is not a replacement for honest politicians, it is not a replacement for strong courts and the rule of the law. It is not a replacement for active citizenry,” he said, while adding that all of those things work along with the EITI to achieve the overall goal of improving accountability and transparency in the extractive industry.
Residents were allowed to ask questions and most of them questioned how the group would be able to ensure that the information it receives from both government and company is accurate and how it would be able to hold either accountable for any misinformation. Calder explained that all information that the government would be submitting would have been scrutinised by the Auditor General and all information that companies would be submitting would’ve been checked by auditors and would be part of their yearly report.
However, in the case of holding them accountable, the members of the Multi-Stakeholder Group reiterated that the since it is a voluntary group, all they can do at the moment is ensure that the information is out there in the public domain and it will be up to the citizenry to decide how to use the reports and what actions to take with the new information.
The group was launched early last month but had been in the making for more than a decade under the previous administration.
The group comprises four representatives each from the government, industry and civil society and it meets monthly.