US exit from EITI is most disappointing

Dear Editor,

While visiting the UK, I read that the US had pulled out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which Guyana is now a candidate member of. There are some 51 members. The US presence in the body served as a model against corruption and acted as a pressure for other countries to become members. Naturally, US withdrawal would encourage others from withdrawing or not applying for membership, and by extension subjecting them to more corruption.

EITI is an extremely important well-intentioned anti-corruption body. It is a model in the fight against corruption that has bedevilled so many countries that have found oil and are mineral rich – whose money have been wasted on wars, corruption, white elephants, etc. As the New Yorker magazine last April commented, ExxonMobil or BP, (used for illustration)  “would pay a huge and secret amount of money to a government for access to fossil fuels or minerals. Nobody, aside from insiders, will ever know how much money the government received and how that money was spent”. The EITI, notes the New Yorker, changed that.

As the magazine stated, in 2002, Tony Blair, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, and some other world leaders, global activists, and anti-corruption scholars founded EITI which is headquartered in Norway, as a role model on how to manage natural resource money. EITI is headed by a former Prime Minister of Sweden and a board made up of civil-society advocates, political leaders, and executives of oil, gas, and mining companies. The body set up a new global standard for transparency. “The member countries agreed to report all the money they receive from extractive industries and how they spend it. Companies working in those nations would also reveal what they paid, allowing the public to reconcile the government and corporate accounts”.

Both government and companies must divulge findings, revenues, and expenditures. The information obtained through EITI can help to monitor how a nation spends royalties deterring corrupt rulers from squirreling money away in foreign bank accounts. It also helps to limit bribery and kickbacks and would expose, for example, whether there was a US$20M bonus to the government for signing the oil agreement with Exxon.

Last April a report in the New Yorker warned that such an act of withdrawal was in the making and it became official last week. The New Yorker described EITI as “a most singularly successful anti-corruption effort”.

The US exit from this global anti-corruption body is most disappointing as others may follow suit undermining the work and the very survival of EITI. International EITI monitors have condemned the US move. The US exit also undermines the power of citizens and watchdogs in the US and by extension other mineral-rich nations to obtain information on mineral extraction. In the long run, being part of EITI would help the US in that it would serve as a bulwark against corruption in poor countries which would not remain as dependent on America for foreign aid if their own money obtained from natural resources were wisely spent. We know what has happened in Guyana with proceeds from our natural resources between 1966 and now. Ample illustrations also exist in other part of the Caribbean region and in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. The US should reconsider this move.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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