How can the EITI become more relevant to people’s lives?

This week board members of the EITI (Extractives Industry Transparency initiative) will be meeting in Oslo to discuss how to strengthen the initiative so that it meets its aim of increasing transparency, public debate and accountability over the management of oil, gas and mining resources. Key questions will be discussed, such as whether to require extractive industry companies to disclose contracts, project level information the beneficial owners of licences, as well as how to ensure this information is presented in a way that reaches the right audiences in an accessible and understandable way.

In the light of these debates, Revenue Watch Institute, Paz y Esperanza and Tearfund have recently published a report into the use of EITI information in Peru published through its first report.

Women in Vinchos Community, Ayacucho at information meeting by mining company

Women in Vinchos Community, Ayacucho at information meeting by mining company

The EITI is now implemented in 37 countries and EITI reports present information on payments by oil, gas and mining companies, as well as the receipts by governments, and try to reconcile any differences. The subsequent dissemination of the results aims to enhance transparency, public debate and accountability over use of extractive industry revenues.

The research found that there had been little impact in Peru so far. Various reasons were given and are covered in detail in the report, but below I mention just three clear suggestions for change given by the potential users of the information.

1. Provide information that is relevant to people’s lives

The overwhelming response from local communities was the desire to know what impact the revenues from extractive industries were having on their daily lives. Put simply – what money was paid for the mining project in their community, what reached the district and what was it being spent on. The other main demand – more at national level – was to know the terms and conditions of contracts, with concerns that many of these were not negotiated in the interests of the country, but had been the result of underhand political deals. Both are needed to make the EITI relevant.

2. Work with ‘info-mediaries’ to interpret the information

Many of those interviewed complained that the information they received – particularly in long reports – was too complicated and difficult to understand. Others said that they wanted additional information on the full ‘extractive revenue routes’ from contracts through revenue payments to government spending and impacts.

Recommendations were for groups such as NGOs, media organisations and universities to act as ‘info-mediaries’ (information intermediaries) to interpret complex information and present it in a way that is understandable and relevant to different audiences. There is a role here for greater support from EITI national secretariats as well as donor agencies, and it should also be considered as part of the G8’s transparency agenda.

3. Analyse the context and link to wider social and political processes

The context in Peru is one of rapid development and expansion of oil, gas and mining activity, which has been accompanied by increased social conflicts. In December 2012, the government’s Ombudsman recorded approximately 230 conflicts, more than half of which were related to the exploration and exploitation of minerals. The most high profile case is the ongoing conflict over the Conga mine in Cajamarca, which has paralysed operations for over a year.

The country is largely divided into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ mining camps and this affects any work by the EITI, with it being seen by some as a government initiative and therefore ‘pro’ mining and not to be trusted.

Although the EITI is not a panacea to resolve all of Peru’s problems, it needs to link closely to the dominant political issues such as environmental protection and local development planning if it is to remain relevant and contribute to better natural resource management and wider reforms. As one respondent from Cajamarca commented:

‘The EITI only plays a role of] informing and disseminating, but many people ask us what use this reconciliation is if it goes no further than making recommendations. A number of people have asked us what point there is in Peru being a compliant country if this has no impact on conflict resolution.’

 [A version of this article was first published on the EITI website and reproduced with kind permission]

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This land is ours, but secretly it’s not really

San Martin region Peru

I have just returned from visiting one of Tearfund’s Partners, Paz y Esperanza in Peru and was struck by of a particular case of land grabbing. It graphically highlights the unresolved conflicts between social, environmental and economic priorities, compounded in this case due to secrecy and lack of participation.

Brief chronology of events

Indigenous Shawi communities have been living in the district of Papaplaya, San Martin Region in the Peruvian Amazon for generations, using the land for fishing and hunting and subsistence farming.

In 2006 Korean company ECOAMERICA asked PETT (the government body responsible for land titles) to inspect 70,000 hectares (about 70,000 football pitches) of supposedly “free land” land with the aim of developing it for agricultural exports. The initial technical report concluded that no one was living there, even though there are three indigenous communities as well as other populations and a proposed area of natural protection.

However, there was no formal response given to the company nor did the state give them any rights to ownership or usage.

Three years later, still having heard nothing, ECOAMERICA applied to a local judge in Yurimaguas (the provincial capital) under a process that is known as “positive administrative silence”. This means that if a person or organisation has gone through all of the necessary channels but doesn’t receive any answer from the state in a suitable timeframe, they can claim what they asked for in the courts.

This way the company gained legal ownership of the land in May 2010. The communities in question still knew nothing. Not only had everything been done in secret without them being informed, but their very existence hadn’t even been acknowledged or recognised.

Indigenous Shawi leaders

Only a few months later did they find out about this process and immediately appealed the decision before a higher regional court in Tarapoto. They won but the case has been appealed by the company to a national tribunal.

How could this happen?

Politically, indigenous rights have not been a priority concern of the state and have often been seen as a threat to wider plans for economic development of the Amazon based on oil, gas, forestry and agricultural exports. A recently passed Consultation Law for indigenous peoples met fierce opposition and has taken ten years to come to the statute books.

Practically, the land registry department is woefully underfunded and there are many cases of land titles being granted without officials visiting the area in question and without including the community or local populations in the process, leaving room for short-cuts and potential corruption.

On top of these challenges, different government departments have developed isolated and often conflicting policies and processes. How else could the regional government recognise three different rights to agricultural development, indigenous territories and an area of natural protection for the same piece of land?

What can be done?

The issues are complex and so are the solutions. But as a minimum three priority actions are needed:

–         adequate resourcing for registration of indigenous lands

–         consultation with indigenous groups over the uses of their lands, particularly in natural resource extraction

–         integrated development policies that seek ways of harmonising economic, environmental and social priorities

If these basic steps don’t happen, there could be many more cases similar to ECOAMERICA, which will not only threaten social and environmental rights, but will also undermine the security of any long-term investments.