Context and challenges
Creating a strong link between civil society representatives and their constituents fosters accountability and boosts civil society influence in the multi-stakeholder group. In some contexts, a single civil society voice carries little weight when faced with companies’ financial power or government control of state apparatus. As a cohesive group, however, civil society can better influence EITI decision making.
Civil society is often a diverse group of actors who pursue many different interests. If its representatives are disconnected from wider civil society and can speak only on their own behalf, the constituency will be perceived as divided and its message will be muddled. Without clear rules, tensions can arise, potentially leading to paralysing splits in the constituency. In countries as varied as Afghanistan and the United Kingdom, a lack of clear governance processes for civil society’s EITI participation, drawn up from the beginning, has caused disruptions. These have discredited it with the other two parties and diverted resources towards conflict resolution, rather than advocacy.
At times, it can be difficult for civil society to challenge the status quo during tripartite discussions, yet representatives often face high expectations from their constituency to deliver reform. Clear and regular communication with constituents enables representatives to clarify what is realistic and achievable, to be accountable and to harness support to influence the other two constituencies. Given the slow, technical nature of the EITI process, keeping wider civil society informed and actively engaged takes work, yet is vital for fostering a diverse and committed civil society collective in the EITI. Multi-stakeholder group representatives must communicate with constituents in sustainable and relevant ways – including at community and grassroots levels.
To be accountable, representatives should protect themselves from undue influences. Potential conflicts of interest can undermine trust that they are acting in the constituency’s best interest. The EITI Standard prescribes that civil society members of the multi-stakeholder group must be independent of government and companies.6 Since March 2014, all EITI office holders have been bound by the EITI Association Code of Conduct, which includes details on how to address conflicts of interest. However, this does not cover the specific challenges faced by civil society relating to political affiliation and financial support, which create numerous real or perceived conflicts of interest. For example, could a civil servant who advises a CSO represent civil society? Do government per diems paid to representatives affect their independence?
There are clear arguments for compensating members of the multi-stakeholder group. Representing civil society effectively in the EITI requires considerable commitment. Representatives need to prepare extensively for meetings, coordinate with colleagues, travel for meetings and activities, and communicate with constituents. Civil society often lacks the resources to cover these costs, especially for representatives from the provinces. In some countries where the government does not meet travel costs, civil society representatives beyond the capital have been unable to attend multi-stakeholder group meetings, so can be unintentionally excluded.
However, government support for civil society participation in the EITI can, at times, create unease. In several African countries, including Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and DRC, financial benefits accrued by individual representatives attending a single multi-stakeholder session exceeded an average monthly salary. These were seen as disproportionate by other local CSOs, and created a perverse incentive to remain in post, preventing turnover of multi-stakeholder group members. The 2016 EITI Standard requires disclosure of policies around per diems and amounts paid,7 but the issue remains controversial among many civil society constituencies.
Based on MSI Integrity’s findings and lessons learnt from across the PWYP movement, there are several useful practices that foster accountability and cohesion among the EITI civil society constituency:
Establish clear constituency guidelines
Tailor rules to the local context
Adopting agreed rules of collaboration helps significantly to create a shared understanding of how civil society hopes to gain from EITI participation. By investing time and energy into collectively agreeing a framework for its engagement, civil society can prevent internal rifts and reduce the risk of other constituencies interfering in civil society matters. These rules should be clearly presented as written terms of reference, a code of conduct or constituency guidelines, and should be made available to all civil society constituents and ideally to other stakeholders as well. MSI Integrity’s guidance note for civil society on how to develop a code of conduct recommends that constituency rules cover:
- Nomination and selection processes for multi-stakeholder representatives
- Duration of mandate and term limits
- Expectations for attendance, preparation and participation at multi-stakeholder meetings
- Liaising with the wider constituency
- Clarifying conflicts of interest and provision for independence of representatives
- Enforcement and review of the code of conduct
The code should clarify how civil society safeguards the independence of its representatives, outline measures to prevent conflicts of interest (such as disclosure duties for representatives and their organisations) and outline procedures to deal with allegations of partiality.
Establish agreed channels of communication with constituents
Implementation of agreed rules can be challenging, but is easier if they are built around existing practices that accommodate local constraints. Guidance material and examples from elsewhere are helpful, but it is counter-productive to replicate processes unsuitable for a particular context. In Albania, for instance, civil society’s well-intentioned code of conduct caused a seat on the multi-stakeholder group to remain vacant for several months because it prescribed that members needed to be appointed at a general meeting, for which no funding was available. A more pragmatic approach, such as online voting or appointment on a non-objection basis between general meetings, could have prevented the vacancy. Constituency rules need built-in flexibility and should describe appropriate local standards rather than aspirations that local CSOs will struggle to achieve.
Balance financial support with impartiality
Finding ways to maintain a regular, open flow of information between representatives and their wider constituents is essential. These could range from evaluation workshops to faster, more affordable methods such as regular email updates. Feeding and responding to regular information exchanges can be time-consuming, so if funding is available, the constituency could hire a dedicated coordinator to support representatives’ work, in particular, with information sharing. Alternatively, multi-stakeholder group members could take turns to be responsible for communication, on a regularly rotating basis.
EITI participation generates costs which civil society must decide how best to shoulder. Representatives require support, particularly financial, but must preserve their impartiality and be clearly seen as doing so. Participation in the EITI should be a strategic choice for civil society, made by weighing financial and opportunity costs against potential advocacy benefits. In countries such as Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines, local CSOs identified the gains they could expect from engaging in the EITI before conducting targeted fundraising activities that would allow them to participate without government support. French CSOs’ reluctance to spend scarce resources on a process offering little more than a pro-forma exercise swayed France’s decision not to pursue an EITI application in 2013. Where the government arranges financial support for domestic CSOs to participate in the EITI process, transparency is essential. In Germany, where four organisations represented in the multi-stakeholder group received government funds to help them participate effectively, the EITI website lists publicly which organisations received funding and how much.