Ethiopia's restrictive civil society law may remain as much of a stumbling block today as in 2009, as the country pushes forth with its efforts to be accepted as member of the international Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), with a reapplication this week.
The EITI is a set of standards, which essentially requires a country to be transparent and accountable about revenues collected from its oil, gas and mineral resources. A country is expected to publish reconciled and audited reports of payments made by mining companies and revenues collected by the government in the sector, according to the EITI standards.
For that to happen, the initiative requires that a country should bring onboard civil society participation to ensure transparency, among other requirements.Ethiopiaintroduced the CSO law in 2009, practically limiting foreign funding of civil society to 10pc for those CSOs that involve in advocacy.
The CSO law is the main thing that is hampering a candidacy status, according to Jonathan Moberg, member of the EITI secretariat, who is inEthiopiafor talks on the issue with officials of the Ministry of Mines, the mining industry and members of the civil society.
"CSO's need to ask the necessary questions to hold the government accountable, and anything restricting them renders this task difficult," he told Fortune.
An international 20-member board gives recognition to countries that implement the EITI standards. Such recognition is sought by countries in order to attract the trust of Foreign Direct Investors (FDI). A candidacy status means a country is on track to get recognition as an EITI compliant country in two and a half years.
Ethiopia will submit this week a new two-year work-plan to implement the initiative's standards, which is one of the four steps to be taken to sign up for candidacy status.
The other steps include issuing a public announcement of its intention to implement the initiative, assigning a senior individual to oversee implementation and showing commitment to work with a multi-stakeholder group, made up of government officials, extracting companies and CSOs as representatives of the public.
All of these steps were taken in 2009, whenEthiopiafirst applied for candidacy. The country's intent was announced at an EITI conference inDoha. A multi stakeholder National Steering Committee was set up from members comprising of five extracting companies, five CSOs and seven high-level government officials. A secretariat was also set up inside the Ministry of Mines to implement decisions of the steering Committee.
Despite completing the sign up process, the government's commitment to work with CSOs was called into question by members of the international board, because of the 2009 lawEthiopiaratified to regulate CSOs.
In the transparency initiative, CSOs are expected to represent the public in holding the government accountable for transparency in contractual agreements and how mining revenue is spent.
"For the past three years it was a back and forth between the board and the local initiative, as we were convincing them that the CSO law is not meant to be restrictive," Merga Kene'a, head of the national EITI secretariat, told Fortune.
By this time,Ethiopia's two year implementation work-plan had expired. A month ago, the secretariat began working on another two-year plan, which is estimated to cost 650,000 dollars to implement. This plan envisions reporting on reconciled revenue and payment reports for the years 2010/11 and 2011/12.
It then called a meeting with government stakeholders to talk about the government's commitment on the initiative, last Thursday. Moberg, from the international EITI secretariat, expressed interest in attending the meeting to talk with the stakeholders, including the Ministry of Mines, Mining companies and CSOs, and assess how restrictive the CSO law could be.
After he expressed interest, media members and CSOs were also invited to the meeting. Moberg and one of the board members of the EITI did make it to the meeting, which was held at Desalegn Hotel, last Thursday. A panel discussion was held between government officials, CSOs and mining companies, during which the CSO law was among the topics of discussion.
Different CSO members of the National Steering Committee expressed varying views about whether the CSO law would indeed create roadblocks to implement the transparency initiative.
Kebreab Abera, executive director for Transparency Ethiopia, says there is an indirect connection between implementation of the EITI and the CSO law.
"We are supposed to advocate transparency and create awareness with the public about published reports," he stated. "This requires funds, which we are restricted from accessing due to the CSO law."
The government, however, is adamant that the law has no relation.
"CSOs should first work on informing themselves about the sector, in order to be able to inform the public," Sinkenesh Ejigu, Minister of Mines (MoM), stated when closing the panel discussion. "This could be done without overly depending on foreign funding."
The Ministry and the steering committee has indeed worked with CSOs extensively to inform and train them about the Mining sector, Kebreab admits.
Sinkinesh says that the law has no relation to the EITI at all, and work is being done to convince the secretariat that the CSO implementation is meant as regulation and not as restriction.
After the panel, Sinknesh invited Moberg to dinner at the Hilton. Moberg requested a half hour additional time before dinner, for a tete-a-tete with her to discuss the issue of civil societies.
What his views would be once talking to stakeholders and ifEthiopia's new two-year action plan is enough to sway board members in granting candidacy status is yet to be seen. The international EITI board will reviewEthiopia's application in October, when it is scheduled to meet, according to Merga.
Currently there are 16 countries with candidacy status and 23 countries that have gone on to gain validation as compliant to the EITI. There are over 170 transparency reports issued by nations, which reveals that 1.052 billion dollars is gained from the sector by governments. Most recently, a transparency report issued inTanzaniabecame a cause for discussion, after it revealed that the country made unprofitable gold contract agreements in the early 1990s.