Step 4:

The Civil Society Protocol

Context and challenges

Civil society’s role is formally anchored in the EITI’s institutional structure,12 giving it equal say in decision making at both national and international Board levels. However, recognising the importance of ensuring adequate civil society participation in light of the rising threats13 against civil society engaged in natural resource governance, the Board adopted the Civil Society Protocol in 2015, as part of the EITI Standard. The Protocol provides an assessment framework to evaluate compliance with civil society requirements in the EITI Standard, in particular requirement 1.3. In 2016, this requirement became a “safeguarded element” of the Standard, meaning that failure to comply with it has more severe consequences than breaches of other requirements.14

Under the EITI Standard, governments must provide an “enabling environment”15 for civil society participation in the EITI. The Protocol provides a framework to assess whether governments are effectively guaranteeing that space, covering five key areas:

  • Expression: Civil society representatives can engage in public debate and express opinions about the EITI process without restraint, coercion or reprisal
  • Association: Civil society representatives can operate freely in relation to the EITI process
  • Operation: Civil society representatives can communicate and cooperate with each other regarding the EITI process
  • Civil society engagement in the EITI: Civil society representatives can be fully, actively and effectively engaged in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the EITI process
  • Access to public decision making: Civil society representatives can speak freely on transparency and natural resource governance, and ensure that the EITI contributes to public debate

Implementing countries are expected to comply at all times with the civil society provisions in the EITI Standard. The international Board assesses compliance on the basis of the Protocol when a country applies for EITI membership and on a regular basis through the Validation exercise. In addition, the Protocol can be used by the Board in exceptional circumstances to investigate allegations that an implementing country is not abiding by the EITI Principles and Requirements, including civil society provisions in the Standard.16

To examine the five areas of the Protocol, the EITI Secretariat takes into account only factors directly relevant to the EITI process. The assessment involves a desk review of existing paperwork and consultation of relevant stakeholders both inside and outside the country. Whereas no specific rules apply for the data gathering by the Secretariat at candidature level, the Validation procedures give clear guidance on how to proceed. They request that the initial assessment is further reviewed by stakeholders in the country, as well as an external validator, before being submitted to the EITI Board.

The Board then reviews the relevant documentation, agrees the level of compliance and decides on the consequences of non-compliance. A candidate country can potentially see its application rejected, while a country undergoing Validation would risk being suspended and issued with corrective actions to complete within a given timeframe. This will mainly depend on whether the Board agrees that the country’s failure to achieve satisfactory progress against requirement 1.3 on civil society is due to deficiencies relating to the Civil Society Protocol.17

The EITI also has a number of other tools available to civil society representatives to raise grievances outside the Validation process. However, a workshop organised by MSI Integrity in 2016, convening leading human rights and accountability experts, EITI board representatives and advocates for natural resource governance, produced a report concluding that the EITI continues to lack trusted processes for raising and addressing concerns over civic space. It recommended investigating levels of undetected violations of the Protocol, strengthening existing accountability mechanisms and introducing an improved remediation mechanism. The EITI Board is currently exploring these recommendations to further strengthen its ability to ensure meaningful civil society engagement in the EITI.

Recommendations

Civil society can take several steps to make best use of the Protocol:

Keep records of EITI participation

Civil society should invest time and resources in documenting its participation in the EITI, to feed into the information gathering phase of the Secretariat’s compliance assessment. In particular, records should document any obstacles civil society faces while taking part in activities relevant to EITI implementation in the country. Ensuring that national multi-stakeholder groups keep adequate records of stakeholder participation in the EITI and make them publicly available on their country websites can be a good way to achieve this.

Build on the protocol to improve civic space

Although the Civil Society Protocol is first and foremost a tool for the Board to assess compliance with EITI requirements, stakeholders in the national context can build on the Protocol to improve and protect the space for civil society to engage in natural resource governance. A PWYP Secretariat infographic captures key opportunities offered by the Protocol, and steps to take when civil society rights are violated.

Assess potential consequences when using the protocol

When using the Civil Society Protocol to pressurise a government to protect or widen civic space, CSOs must assess potential unintended consequences. Both Niger and Azerbaijan withdrew from the EITI in 2017 after the Board announced their suspension for failing to comply with the Protocol, leaving local and national CSOs with one less transparency tool. Local CSOs must discuss how best to leverage the Protocol in their specific context and present a united front to the potentially repressive government.

Several key questions can help guide CSO actors in repressive environments.

Before joining the initiative:
  • Is an EITI application worth pursuing if the government refuses to guarantee space for meaningful civil society participation? Will civil society be better able to promote good governance of the extractive sector through participation in the EITI?
  • What minimum guarantees does civil society require from the government to participate in the initiative?
  • How much of a national priority is the EITI and how much influence do EITI representatives have within government? Are concessions on civic space in relation to EITI implementation likely?
  • Does wider civil society back CSOs engaged in discussions about EITI entry?
  • Is the government committed to transparency as a means to foster more openness, genuine public dialogue and accountability in the country’s extractive sector?
As an implementing country:
  • If civil society highlights violations of the Protocol, will a country’s suspension serve or undermine civil society’s agenda?
  • How will civil society deal with potential consequences, including accusations of working for foreign interests or the risk that the country leaves the EITI?
  • Do wider civil society and international partners back CSOs in the multi-stakeholder group?
Report ad hoc violations

Local civil society should report ad hoc violations of the Protocol to a civil society Board representative who can convene the Rapid Response Committee. The EITI Secretariat is then usually tasked to investigate further and brief the committee. If a direct link is established between the incident and the EITI process, the committee can recommend a series of possible actions to the Board. An official communication by the EITI Board, for example, helped obtain the swift release of activist and EITI multi-stakeholder group member Ali Idrissa, arrested in Niger in July 2014 for denouncing secrecy around negotiations between French energy firm AREVA and the Nigerien state over uranium extraction.

Four steps to stronger Civil Society participation in the EITI

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