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Colombia Submits Action Plan to EITI Secretariat

The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas, metals and minerals, is supposed to boost the economy and improve the quality of life of the residents of resource rich countries. However, in too many cases, resource extraction has led to social inequality, environmental degradation and corruption. In places like Colombia, it aggravates conflict.

The global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard (EITI Standard) is an international standard for the mining and hydrocarbon industries. By establishing a participatory approach that ensures the collaboration of governments, private sector actors, and civil society organizations, the EITI Standard promotes a fairer, more transparent accounting of resources.

The EITI was launched in 2002 by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom to promote accountability and transparency in both the mining and hydrocarbon sectors and to the fight against the so-called “resource curse.” According to EITI Board Chair Clare Short and the head of the EITI Secretariat, Jonas Moberg, “public understanding of government revenues and expenditure over time could help public debate and inform choice of appropriate and realistic options for sustainable development.”

As of September 2014, 46 countries—working in collaboration with more than 80 private supporting companies and 21 partner organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank—had implemented the initiative.

For Colombia, the EITI is a tool that could be used to ground national policy in reliable and coherent information that nourishes public debate and strategic policymaking. Although Colombia has scored satisfactorily on the Natural Resource Governance Institute’s Resource Governance Index, many improvements still need to be made, specifically in terms of increasing public access to relevant data collected from the mining (non-hydrocarbon) sector.  Such data includes information about companies operating in the country—for example, their exact area of operations, their mining titles, contracts they have signed, and the amount of royalties and taxes they pay.

In May 2013, former Vice Minister of Mines Natalia Gutiérrez announced the Colombian government’s intent to submit an application for candidate status to the EITI secretary. Since then, a group of government, private sector and civil society representatives have worked to make this statement of intent a reality. Within civil society, a diverse group of community-based and academic organizations have come together to choose representatives and to discuss the principal challenges for extractive industry transparency in the country. They created the Mesa de la Sociedad Civil para la Transparencia de la Industria Extractiva (Civil Society Board for Extractives Industries Transparency), which organizes regional workshops about the EITI process in Colombia.

 If Colombia’s EITI candidacy is successful, it would become only the second country in South America—and the fourth in Latin America—to join the initiative. Peru and Guatemala are EITI “compliant,” while Honduras is a “candidate.” In other words, while all three countries have submitted their applications to the EITI board for consideration, only Honduras has fulfilled the EITI Standard’s seven requirements and undergone the comprehensive validation process.

On August 14, 2014, the final version of the EITI Colombia Action Plan was approved by the National Tripartite Committee (NTC), whose members include state entities such as the Ministerio de Minas y Energía  (Ministry of Mines and Energy—MinMinas), Departamento Nacional de Planeación (National Planning Department—DNP) and the Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales de Colombia (Directorate of National Taxes and Customs—DIAN));  representatives from the extractive industries sector such as Ecopetrol, the Asociación Colombiana del Petróleo (Colombian Petrol Association) and the Asociación Colombiana de Minería (Colombian Mineral Association); and civil society organizations such as Transparencia por Colombia (Transparency International, Colombia), Fundación Foro Nacional por Colombia (National Forum for Colombia Foundation), and Externado University.

The NTC drew up the action plan in accordance with the 2013 EITI Standard requirements and sent it to the EITI Secretariat in August for evaluation. The 2013 EITI Standard includes requirements regarding the disclosure of mining, oil and gas companies’ payments to government, as well as the publication of important contextual information—such registered operating licenses, the value and volume of production, and the contribution of the sector to employment (see all the requirements of the 2013 EITI Standard here.) This contextual information represents a step beyond the original EITI standard, which previously focused only on corporate payments and conciliation with payments received by government.

Various parties from across the country were involved in creating the action plan—not only the NTC representatives, but other public, private sector and civil society organizations that formed a technical advisory group.   As a result of the diversity of the actors involved and the breadth of the debate, the EITI Colombia Action Plan goes beyond the 2013 EITI Standard in several important ways. According to civil society representatives to the NTC, various additional and relevant objectives were incorporated into the plan:

--The design and development of a sub-national strategy to enforce citizens’ right to access information that is relevant at the local level—specifically, extractive sector sub-national payments, the distribution and investment of royalties and other data that is not yet consolidated or disclosed.

--The implementation of a strategy that serves to increase awareness, training and working capacities of local authorities, local civil society organizations and citizens, in order to enhance the use and effectiveness of the information generated by the EITI process.

--Public disclosure of oil and mining contracts, observing only those limitations stated in the 2014 Law of Transparency and Access to Public Information (Ley 1712 of 2014).

--The communication, at companies’ discretion, of those activities undertaken on a voluntary basis for community development, plus indirect and direct employment statistics by company—in addition to obligatory data, such as compulsory community expenditures, required by the standard.

One of the most important discussions during the EITI Colombia process was the possibility of accessing more environmental information within the extractive sector. Civil society representatives insisted that public environmental documents like environmental licenses, environmental impact assessments, and companies’ annual environmental reports should be more accessible to the public. Although this has not been included in the global 2013 EITI Standard, members of the NTC signed an agreement to launch a dialogue and design a methodology to publish the amount of money that companies spend on environmental projects. The action plan would be modified according to the results of these discussions.    

The EITI in Colombia has shown its potential as a platform for dialogue between the government, private sector and civil society. In a sector where conflict is increasing, and despite the varying approaches proposed, EITI proponents agree about the importance of delivering transparent and accurate information to the general public. However, the success of these efforts will depend on financial and technical support, as well as the enthusiasm and will of all private and public institutions involved in the process.

The International EITI Board is expected to decide whether Colombia meets the criteria of an EITI candidate this week. If it does, the implementation of the action plan should start soon.

*Kai Whiting is director of the energy engineering undergraduate program at Universidad EAN in Bogotá. He joined the EITI Colombia Civil Society Board and Technical Support Group in May. Follow him on Twitter: @KaiWhiting.

*Ana Carolina González Espinosa is a research associate at Externado University. She was elected as a society representative to the Colombian EITI National Tripartite Committee in 2013. Follow her on Twitter: @AnaCaroGE.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Colombia, EITI, Transparency, Natural resource extraction

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