ZIMBABWE was supposed to become a member of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (Eiti) at this year’s Global Mining Indaba which ended in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday, but the hopes were dashed when cabinet ministers fiercely opposed the idea, arguing that it is part of a Western agenda meant to facilitate spying on the country, among other issues. Eiti seeks to address key governance issues in the extractive sectors. Zimbabwe Independent’s chief reporter, Andrew Kunambura (AK), this week interviewed Eiti board chairperson, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark (HC, pictured), from her Auckland base. Below are excerpts of the interview:
AK: Can you briefly outline the origin and purpose of Eiti?
HC: At a conference at Lancaster House in London in June 2003, a statement of principles to increase transparency of payments and revenues in the extractive sector was agreed”.
Mozambique, Nigeria, the DRC and Ghana were among the countries represented. The conference laid the basis for the creation of the Eiti and an international secretariat based in Oslo. From there, over the past 17 years, Eiti has developed a standard which promotes best practice on extractives sector governance. Fifty-two countries implement that standard. Twenty-four are members of the African Union.
AK: How does a country become a member of the organisation?
HC: The process begins with a statement of intention from the government of a country to join. A multi-stakeholder group is then convened, comprised of government, industry, and civil society representatives. They work together to submit a candidature application and a work plan. When received, it is assessed through Eiti processes. The Eiti board takes the final decision. Link here: https://eiti.org/join-EITI#how-apply
AK: As you may have learnt from our report last week, the initiative is facing stiff resistance from Zimbabwean ministers who think the initiative is a Western-sponsored ploy to spy on the country and exploit its resources. What advice would you give to them?
HC: My advice is that there is no substance to this concern. The fact that all but four of the Eiti’s implementing countries are developing countries and not Western speaks for itself. All Eiti countries apply to join the Eiti on a voluntary basis, in line with the principles of national sovereignty.
Resource-rich countries that are neighbours of Zimbabwe have positive experiences of implementation and of using the Eiti as a tool to benefit from mineral resources. For example, the Zambian Minister of Mines and Mineral Development, Richard Musukwa, commented in a review last year of 10 years of Eiti implementation that: “Eiti should be a tool for promoting transparency and accountability not only with regard to revenues and payments but throughout the mineral value chain.”
He mentioned specifically that the Eiti “allows for flexibility, to be tailored to the needs of the country”.
AK: These ministers have also raised questions about your visit to Zimbabwe in October last year which they say was aimed at lobbying for the adoption of the initiative. How would you respond to this?
HC: The Eiti mission came to Zimbabwe because interest had been expressed in Zimbabwe in joining Eiti, most notably in the Finance minister’s budget speech to Parliament last year.
The delegation outlined the processes for joining and how the initiative could benefit Zimbabwe. It was not a lobbying mission. Its aim was to establish contact with those interested in knowing more about the Eiti.
AK: One of the ministers we spoke to said you also addressed a meeting which was held on South Island in New Zealand. Was this event specifically for Zimbabwe or it involved other countries as well?
HC: There has been no meeting on the Eiti in New Zealand that I have addressed. I am not aware of any meeting on Zimbabwe either. The only meeting which I have addressed in New Zealand’s South Island in recent months was on local economic development in New Zealand.
AK: The government of Zimbabwe, as it stands, has taken the position that it will not join Eiti unless sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe by Western powers are lifted. What would you say on that issue?
HC: It is entirely a matter for Zimbabwe if and/or when it decides to apply for Eiti membership. Eiti has no power over the sanctions — it did not impose them and cannot lift them.
AK: The government also accuses you and the Eiti team you came to Zimbabwe with last year of covertly engaging some civil society organisations which they accuse of working to undermine the government. Did you have any meetings with some of these organisations and, if so, which ones?
HC: The Eiti mission was conducted openly to meet a range of stakeholders, including civil society. There were no covert meetings. Civil society is an essential part of the Eiti partnership at the global and national levels with governments and private companies. If governments are not prepared to work with civil society on Eiti, then there is no point in considering Eiti membership.
Requirements for implementing countries state that civil society must be fully, actively and effectively engaged in the Eiti process and that government must ensure that there are no obstacles to civil society participation in the Eiti process. Zimbabwe civil society includes well-informed groups on transparency and disclosure. We were pleased to hear their views, as we were pleased to hear the views of government and other stakeholders.
AK: Can you specify the benefits which member states enjoy for being part of Eiti?
HC: The benefits come from implementing countries being validated against the Eiti standard for transparency and disclosure and making the policy reforms necessary to achieve validation. If countries show through these processes that they are determined to improve their extractives sector governance, then they are likely to improve the quality of investment, resulting in more revenues flowing transparently into their treasuries to allocate to development priorities.
AK: One of the reasons cited by the Zimbabwean government for blocking moves to join Eiti was that it would be used by powerful Western nations to interfere in deals they enter with countries like China and Russia as part of the global trade war. How would you respond to that?
HC: I can see no merit in this argument. Implementing countries stand to benefit from being seen to meet the Eiti standard for good governance in the extractives sector. Returning to the remarks made by the Zambia minister of Mines and Mineral Development, transparency through the value chain, from the licensing process onwards, can only be beneficial to ensure that government secures the best outcomes for citizens from the development of natural resources.
AK: They also argue that Eiti will ultimately be used by these countries to exploit rare earth minerals which are abundant in the country?
HC: I can see no merit in this argument either. Zimbabwe has a rich mineral endowment, which could make a far greater contribution to its development if its extractives sector governance is improved. Mining has been identified as a priority sector for the economy, which can promote job creation and generate much-needed revenues. Implementation of the Eiti standard would benefit the country in realising its full potential.