This week Azerbaijan became the first-ever country to be downgraded from “compliant” to “candidate” status in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
The country now has an opportunity to improve civic space and enable its EITI process to function as a truly multi-stakeholder initiative, and to achieve the EITI’s aim of improving the management of natural resource wealth for the public good. Failing to make these improvements could lead to further censure by EITI.
In February 2009, following a two-year candidacy period, EITI assessed Azerbaijan as fully compliant with the initiative’s standards; Azerbaijan was the first-ever country to be declared compliant. Since then, EITI’s civil society requirements have been significantly clarified and upgraded. (The revised EITI Civil Society Protocol was agreed by the EITI international board at its October 2014 meeting.)
At the same meeting, the board also determined that the situation for civil society in Azerbaijan was unacceptable, based on the results of a fact-finding mission. The board called for an early re-assessment, or validation, of the country’s compliance with all EITI requirements, including those mandating a suitably enabling environment for civil society. Calling for such an early validation was a first for the initiative.
Yesterday, at the EITI international board meeting in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, board members reviewed the results of the early validation and decided that Azerbaijan was no longer fully compliant with EITI’s requirements, and thus downgraded the country to candidate status.
The EITI board will specify concrete remedial actions that Azerbaijan can take to remove the obstacles faced by many civil society organizations in their mission to be effective partners in helping improve natural resource governance. Failure to implement these corrective actions over the next year could result in Azerbaijan’s suspension from EITI. Further inaction could result in Azerbaijan’s delisting. (Prior to the recent change in status, Azerbaijan’s tenure as “compliant” was the longest of any EITI member country.)
The board’s response highlights the central importance of civil society in this global multi-stakeholder initiative, and the criticality of open civic space in public dialogue and effective accountability in any multi-stakeholder effort.
Azerbaijan can regain its place among EITI-compliant countries by tangibly improving the environment for civil society and opening space for public debate. Actions such as releasing prisoners who have been unjustly arrested, detained, tried, convicted and incarcerated on false charges charges—including NRGI advisory council member Ilgar Mammadov—would be important steps in the right direction.
Azerbaijan is expected to release a new EITI report in the coming months; this will be its first report prepared under the EITI’s broadened disclosure standards. According to the EITI process, civil society in Azerbaijan should meet to discuss the draft report, weigh in on its finalization at multi-stakeholder group meetings, and then analyze the findings of the report and use them to stimulate public debate and improved natural resource governance. But first the government in Azerbaijan must make some decisive changes so that the country’s civil society organizations can resume their essential role in the EITI process and society in general.