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Publish and the Problem Will Go Away?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index provides a rather bleak picture of the current state of corruption around the world. With more than half of the 178 indexed countries scoring below five on a 10 point scale (with 10 being “very clean”), corruption remains a major impediment to development.  Thus, TI is now advocating for stricter implementation and monitoring of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), a global legal framework that came into force in 2005 to help curb corruption. The Convention’s 140 signatories’ will be under review for the next three years for their efforts in fighting corruption.  TI further recommends that focus should be given to areas such as, “strengthening institutions; strengthening the rule of law; making decision-making transparent; educating youths and setting up better whistle-blower protection schemes.”  As a matter of fact, anti-corruption measures will be discussed at the G-20 summit taking place in Seoul next week.  However, Christiaan Poortman, TI’s Director of Global Programmes, is skeptical as to whether it will produce any major changes at the governance level. 

A specific area of concern is corruption in the extractive industries (gas, oil and mining). Paul Collier and Jamie Drummond recently pointed out that complete transparency in the extractive industries can lead to transformational change, and specifically accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  The good news is that progress has been made, which the Economist also highlighted in a recent article.  For one, the U.S. made a bold statement earlier this year by signing a new law that requires all registered companies in the U.S. working in the extractive industries to publish payments that they make to governments world-wide.  The law should have a tremendous impact, as it applies to some of the largest gas, oil and mining companies in the world.  Specifically, disclosure of financial information will empower citizens in resource-rich countries to hold their leaders accountable and to ensure that revenues will benefit everyone, and not a selected few.  To accelerate progress and achieve a universal standard, the hope is that more countries will follow the U.S., and in particular all G-20 countries. 

The Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition should be acknowledged for their efforts in campaigning for the U.S. law, and for putting “revenue transparency” on the global agenda in the first place.  PWYP is a global civil society coalition that operates in almost 60 countries and advocates for greater transparency and accountability in the extractive industries.  A major accomplishment of the PWYP is that “revenue transparency” has become an accepted norm among corporations.  While complete transparency is yet to be achieved, the issue is no longer up for discussion.  PWYP is now seeking to expand the norm to broader range of companies, as well as countries, while also campaigning for strict implementation of the U.S. law. 

As so often mentioned on this blog, implementation and enforcement of norms is possibly the most difficult part of the governance reform process.  Challenges in the political economy environment and measures to monitor progress are often not considered in the campaign process. At the moment, there’s much emphasis on securing political will to curb corruption.  However, building public support is equally important to ensure that standards are enforced.  While the publishing of financial information is big step towards greater transparency, there must be an enabling environment for citizens to access, discuss and utilize the information effectively, as well as being made aware of their rights to doing so.

Transnational networks and coalitions, such as PWYP, can play a crucial role in linking global norms to national contexts, building capacity on the ground, and empowering citizens to hold their leaders accountable.  The bottom line is that collaboration among a broad set of stakeholders at the global and domestic levels are essential for these initiatives to succeed.  Hopefully next year’s corruption index will provide a much more cheerful picture.


Photo Credit: Flickr user Philippe Put

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I am responding to this blog on behalf of my many colleagues working on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which has also played a critical role in governance reform and publishing revenues from the extractive industries. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a global initiative established in 2003 which promotes and supports improved governance in resource-rich countries through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas, and mining activities. The World Bank Group supports countries with Technical Assistance and funding through a multi-donor trust fund (EITI-MDTF) established for this purpose - managed by SEGOM (formerly COCPO), the Oil, Gas, and Mining unit in the Sustainable Energy Department of the Sustainable Development Network at the World Bank. The year 2010 is an important milestone for the EITI countries, with several countries having attained or about to attain EITI compliant status by completing a rigorous external validation process. The World Bank and EITI-MDTF donors have played an important role in achieving momentum and, in this context, provided here are links to information on SEGOM activities in support of the EITI. Transparency at Work (video)-- Striving for Transparency (IDA at Work Note)-- For more information about the World Bank's work in the EITI, please visit our Web site at: http://www.worldbank.eititf.

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