From reports to results: How the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative makes transparency count
How do you make sure that increased transparency in the natural resource sector yields the desired results? The Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) asked itself this question early on – and it has found two especially innovative solutions!
Having joined the global transparency initiative EITI, Liberia was the first African country and the second worldwide to become compliant with the international EITI rules in 2009. The implementation rests in the hands of a national multi-stakeholder body, consisting of representatives from government, private sector and the civil society, which are supported by a secretariat. Having started as an initiative to publish and reconcile tax payments made by mining and oil companies and corresponding receipts by government, EITI soon discovered that just publishing these data was not sufficient alone. After having published the first few reports, LEITI started to tackle this issue on the level of Liberia. How could it go further to enable citizens to use the new-won transparency? How could it make sure that it translated into increased accountability – and eventually better governance of the sector?
Liberia, in this case, faces a particularly tough challenge: the country is still emerging from a brutal 14-year civil conflict during the 1990ies and early 200s, which had shattered the society down to its very foundations. Generously endowed with natural resources, it nonetheless remains amongst the five poorest countries in the world – with a population which is both youthful & and lacks access to quality education.
As one part of LEITI’s response, the institution started an outreach and debate program aimed at highschool students, the so called “extractive clubs” or “eClubs” in 2013. The objective of this program was to provide youth with the opportunity to actively participate in national extractive sector debates, advocating for increased transparency & accountability. Through the program future professionals and potential leaders are educated about the importance of transparency and accountability in the sector, given access to crucial information and provided a platform to raise their voices.
The other part of the response, initiated roughly at the same time as the eClubs, was to simplify and condense the often voluminous and very technical investment contracts which govern all large mining projects and also industrial-scale investments in rubber and palm oil. The result was a document which contained the 25 most important natural resource contracts across the country, summarized on a couple of pages each and paraphrased in simple Liberian English, to make these agreements signed between government and companies more accessible to ordinary citizens.
The GIZ-implemented “Regional Resource Governance in West Africa” program supported LEITI in implementing both activities – and they start to show a remarkable level of success: the eClubs are just about to finish their third season. Over the years, presumably way more than 1000 students have benefitted from one of the various activities under the program, such as lectures, access to literature and peer-to-peer discussions. At the last inter-high school debate tournament, a two days event at which teams of participating high schools compete for the best arguments concerning extractive industry governance, more than 300 students participated, actively and as spectators. In an end survey conducted amongst 35 participants of the program, more than 90% replied positively to questions whether the program had helped them to better understand the issues facing the sector and how to make their questions and concerns heard. 94% replied they also talked with their family and friends about what they had learned.
The simplified contract matrix also created its very own dynamic: after a first 750 copies had been printed with support from GIZ and were distributed across the country at the end of 2015, the USAID-funded “Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative” took over this year: recently, more than 1500 additional copies have been printed and dissemination across the country through town hall meetings continues. Citizens’ interest remains high, as shown by a remark made by a youth representative, as quoted on the LEITI’s website: “Why has the LEITI waited so long to get these very important documents and information to us, this should be done on a regular basis so that we can use them to ask our leaders. The action by the LEITI is actually amplifying our voice, we can speak with facts and our leaders must listen.”
Winning team of 2017 eClubs Inter-High School Debate
LEITI contract matrix: