A workshop was held in Honiara on Thursday for members of civil society to discuss the important role that Civil Society Organizations can play to support the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) process in Solomon Islands.
EITI is a series of steps that are taken by a country to publicly share and report information about money flows from oil, gas and mineral resources.
The goal of EITI is to help countries to avoid the 'resource curse' - when money from mineral resources, for example, does not translate to development benefits for the people of resource rich countries. It is an internationally standard which the Government of Solomon Islands commitment to implement in August 2011.
The workshop was organized by the Solomon Islands Extractive Industries National Stakeholder Group, SIENSG, with support from the World Bank. The EITI National Stakeholder Group was established to lead the process of attaining EITI candidacy for Solomon Islands. The National Stakeholder Group was formed in January 2012 and is made up of representatives from companies, government and civil society. It is now working to set the rules that will guide their work together and establish a country Work Plan to implement a uniquely Solomon Islands Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.
Workshop participants have discussed and raised a lot of ideas on how best the civil society in Solomon Islands could organize and communicate amongst themselves on EITI issues, the kind of information that needs to be conveyed, and ways to effectively communicate those information to the public.
It was unanimously recommended during the workshop that the Development Services Exchange (DSE) as the umbrella body for all NGOs in the country should take the lead role in managing and organizing civil society. In order for DSE to effectively play that role, it needs to do an analysis of the skills and experiences its members.
Participants also agreed on their need for training to understand the mining industry and its revenue flows to be able to explain it at the village level. They also had the opportunity to review a standard EITI revenue reporting template and discuss its relationship to the natural resource taxation regime in Solomon Islands. Asked about the benefits of the workshop participants shared the following impressions:
“The approach to get civil society groups to speak with one voice and inform people about development issues that affect their lives is important; a well informed nation is healthy for the country and good for development. It would be really good for people in the rural areas to be made aware of initiatives like the EITI because they own the resources and, if they are not well informed they won’t really allow their resources for development or make the right choices.” Director, Vois Blong Mere Solomons, Josephine Teakeni.
Walter Malau, Director, Solomon Islands Transparency International and member of the EITI National Stakeholder Group, observed that: “The CSOs that were represented at the workshop were realistic about the lack of coordination amongst civil society groups, and that some members have not been effectively part of the wider CSO network which includes speaking in a single voice.”
James Funa, General Secretary, Solomon Islands Christian Association James Funa said that: “It is important for civil society groups to know about the EITI in detail so they can effectively spread the information to the general public. Also, churches need to be clear about their position in the civil society structure and how they can fit in to support the work of the EITI. We (SICA) regard ourselves a faith-based organization and not so much an NGO, but 95 percent of the population is our members. If we can define our role in the EITI process, I think SICA through its church leaders can help support the work of EITI which I see as a very positive initiative for broadening the country’s revenue base.”
The workshop provided a forum for participants to share what they already knew about mining, their understanding of how mining revenues are distributed, and what they can do to support the work of the EITI National Stakeholder Group.
The EITI will complement overall Solomon Islands Government reforms to:
- Reduce the opportunities for corruption and the risk of conflict that are common to the extractive sector;
- Improve governance systems and processes among government departments;
- Strengthen capacity of Civil Society Groups to engage and work meaningfully and responsibly with industry and government to build a strong and equitable mining sector; and,
- Improve the business environment for investment and growth in the Solomon Islands.
Thursday’s workshop was the first of a series of workshops that are proposed for 2012 to prepare civil society groups to stimulate public awareness and interest in the EITI.