Clare Short carries the day for Ethiopia at EITI – woe unto the Initiative’s future & poor Africans

19 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

At its Osol meeting on March 19, 2014, the international EITI Board has approved Ethiopia’s application as EITI ‘candidature’ status, whose future approval is subject to preformance in the first three years.

It is understood from EITI explanations that this approval of the candidature at this stage should not be considered “recognition of a country’s levels of transparency or accountability”. In that regard, the board has indicated that Ethiopia must ensure its engagement of civil society in fostering transparency in its relations with and collaboration on EITI matters.

Unfortunately, the irony is that already at this stage the whole thing has become theatrical. Ethiopia’s Minister of Mines Tolesa Shagi has written to the Board, announcing the repressive TPLF regime’s commitment “to work with Civil Societies to ensure their engagement in the Ethiopian EITI”. For sure, Ethiopians have known the TPLF regime for the past 23 years and nothing of the sort the minister claims has been seen in its credentials.

It is not clear, for instance, what the minister meant by “civil societies”. For all the international community has known this far, Ethiopia is a country where founding and running independent civil society organizations under this dictatorial regime has proved risky and too costly.

Moreover, experience with journalists and members leaders of independent civil society organizations have invariably ended up in prisons. Even when that is done, the story remains hidden or explained away in the context either of terrorism or it is lost forever without any traces. This happens because the regime is sworn to deprive Ethiopians of any free media whatsoever, which it considers a threat to its very existence. Partly, this fear has genuine basis, since official corruption is rife, it is worried a free media would catch it in the corruption it has been mired in.

This deprivation of a free media, which the board tried to gloss over today is supposedly one of EITI’s legs, if this is to be understood from its principles and basic requirements of the EITI processes in the context of freedom and transparency.

During its discussion, the EITI Board stressed importance of ensuring civil society engagement in Ethiopia’s efforts to comply with the EITI Standard. The unanswered question is what the standard for and the mechanism for measuring ‘civil society engagement’. One thing the TPLF has proved its ace in in producing civil society organizations overnight and in their required multiplicity?

The full text of the Board’s decision reads:

    “The EITI Board admits Ethiopia as an EITI Candidate country on 19 March 2014. In accordance with the EITI Standard and associated transitional arrangements, Ethiopia is required to publish its first EITI Report within two years of becoming a Candidate (by 19 March 2016). If the EITI Report is not published by this deadline, Ethiopia will be suspended. Validation will commence within three years of becoming a Candidate (by 19 March 2017). In accordance with requirement 1.6c, the MSG is required to publish an annual activity report for 2014 by 1 July 2015. The Board notes the concerns expressed by some stakeholders regarding potential obstacles to implementation such as legal barriers to implementation and capacity constraints in civil society. In accordance with requirement 1.4.c.i and 1.4.c.iii, the Board recommends that the MSG updates its workplan to include a detailed assessment and actions to address potential capacity constraints, as well as plans for addressing any legal, regulatory or administrative barriers to implementation identified in the ongoing legal review commissioned by the MSG [multi-stakeholder group].”

Already within the board, it is reported that some members of the Board had argued against approving Ethiopia’s candidature application. However, failing to overcome the lobby Clare Short, the board’s chairperson, has marshalled – behind whom are governments and companies – for the record those members that raised objection requested their reservations to be registered.

After her victory, Clare Short declared:

    “I am pleased that the Board has decided to accept Ethiopia as an EITI Candidate country. Some opposed this decision, but it should be remembered that becoming a candidate does not mean that any country has met the EITI Standard. In the case of Ethiopia, the decision shows that the Board was convinced by the government’s commitment to the EITI’s principles. Membership of the EITI will mean that all stakeholders, including civil society, will have a better platform to hold the government and the companies to account and ensure the better management of the burgeoning sector.”

Right from the get go, there is something inconsistent with the board’s decision. Why has it omitted from its decision any reference to the importance of free media? This is one thing, which in earlier years, along with suppression of civil society organization, caused its its difficulties in admitting Ethiopia. Was it not because of the absence of a free media, which is considered a third leg of EITI, and civil society organizations that Ethiopia had to wait since 2009 to this day?

Furthermore, the discussion and assessment by the EITI secretariat are also mute, tailored to suit Ms. Short’s objective of getting favorable acceptance of Ethiopia’s candidature. The whole thing sounds, as if in a country, where media freedom could cost one’s life, civil society have any other outlet to make its point of views known, when dealing with a regime that has proved its ace in surreptitious activities.

The main mission of the EITI is to help nations become full users of their natural resources, i.e., oil, natural gas, minerals, forest resources, etc., without any leakage from either of the government side or international companies.

Caroline Kende-Robb, Executive Director of the Kofi Annan chaired Africa Progress Panel wrote on February 10, 2014 under the title How we made it in Africa:

    “Billions and billions of dollars are leaving Africa. We calculated, with the help of Global Financial Integrity, that there was US$38bn leaving Africa every year… [through] trade mispricing, where you undervalue the prices of your imports and exports so you don’t have to pay the appropriate amount of tax.”

 

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