Oslo — A prominent international natural resource transparency group has damaged its credibility by approving membership for Ethiopia. On March 19, 2014, the governing board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes openness over oil, gas, and mining revenues, admitted Ethiopia as a candidate country despite harsh government repression that has crushed Ethiopia's once vibrant independent organizations and its independent media.
EITI rules call for candidate countries to make a commitment to meaningful participation of independent groups in public debate on natural resource management. Civil society representatives also sit on a national steering committee for EITI.
"The EITI's decision to admit Ethiopia without insisting on reforms is an affront to the local activists who've been jailed or exiled for calling for a more transparent, accountable government," said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "With this decision, EITI has thrown its principles to the wind and damaged its reputation as a leading good governance group."
The decision divided members of the EITI board, which includes representatives of governments, companies, and civil society organizations. It also reversed a 2010 decision by the board to defer membership until a draconian 2009 law, still in effect, that sharply limits the activities of independent groups, "is no longer in place."
Several exiled Ethiopian and international rights advocates called for conditions to be imposed on Ethiopia's membership bid, but the board did not reach a consensus on such measures.
Under EITI procedures, Ethiopia has three years to prove compliance with the organization's standards on revenue transparency and other matters. The board can call for an early review based on poor or deteriorating civil society concerns but has never done so.
"EITI's leadership had an opportunity to stand up for the core principle that civil society participation is a linchpin of good governance," Misol said. "Instead, it sacrificed EITI's credibility by allowing Ethiopia to join the 'transparency' club despite intense repression."