The movement for greater transparency in extractives has come a long way in the past decade. However, it is good sometimes to take a step back and see as part of a broader shift towards all things open. The Open Government Partnership Summit in London last week offered the perfect reference point, convening government and civil society from 61 OGP member countries.
Among the 1300 attendees, transparency proponents from the extractives community mingled with self confessed experts on everything from open data to use of technology to budgets to procurement to access to information to whisteblowing to open aid. At least 13 of the now 61 OGP member countries have made commitments related to transparency of extractive industries – starting with the founding commitment of the United States to join EITI. Natural resource management was one of four identified themes of the Summit. In practice virtually every session of a packed agenda had some relevance to ongoing discussions around oil, gas and mining. Many of the new commitments have spillover benefits for extractives good governance. Not least the showcase UK announcement for making its new registry of beneficial owners of registered companies be fully public.
How to take advantage of the OGP platform? The creation of an extractive industries working group, launched at the Summit and chaired by the government of Ghana and Revenue Watch Institute, can help at one level, but perhaps the real value lies in drawing on the learnings of the broader community. Many of the discussions in London ended up focusing on how we get this all to “join up” – whether joining up data sets, joining up transparency initiatives, or joining the different communities of practitioners approaching similar issues from different vantages/priorities. Jonas Moberg, head of EITI Secretariat, was wary of making connections not strictly relevant to EITI, which could become a distraction. However, the power of at least being able to follow an information trail from contract details to beneficial ownership to payments made to spending decisions to project implementation is clear. It will help country stakeholders have confidence they are getting a reasonable deal and seeing real benefits. Not all that info will neccesarily come from an extractives specific process, hence the value of the broader open government movement. One red flag for me in the conversations in London was an assertion in several sessions that civil society must shoulder the burden of showing it is using the data that governments are putting out to justify its continued disclosure. Surely that should be a shared agenda? Truly accessible data, also facilitates analysis across government departments that are all too often siloed. Governments should be looking at the implications for policy and accountability – having the data in the public domain should increase the onus to show how they are doing so. That cannot be outsourced to NGOs and journalists, vigilant though they should be. We still need a broader discussion on the implications of extractives “big data” and roles and responsibilities around its use.