In early 2015 the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) will begin its early validation process in Azerbaijan, where government opposition toward civil society organizations (CSOs), including the unjust arrest of a prominent transparency advocate, has stalled EITI-related activities since 2013. EITI board members announced this decision at their October meeting in Myanmar.
The early validation in Azerbaijan is the first in EITI's history. In addition to reviewing and evaluating the EITI Standard provisions, the validator will track special conditions put forth to improve CSO participation in the EITI process, as referenced in EITI Standard provision 1.3. In fact, the validation is crucial for future CSO work. Despite recent amendments to legislation and limitations on NGOs, EITI remains an important tool—one of only a few in the country—to keep the government accountable to and collaborative with CSOs.
Since the October announcement, members of Azerbaijan's EITI multi-stakeholder group (MSG) and coalition have met numerous times to discuss challenges and plot a way forward. Experts first met in October to review the 2013 EITI report using NRGI's gap analysis methodology. The comprehensive review covered gaps in both the report and its methodology. The experts then made recommendations welcomed by the government and discussed at subsequent MSG meetings in Azerbaijan.
In December, the EITI NGO coalition met again in Istanbul to prepare for the pre-validation process. The event, which was organized and financed by NRGI's Eurasia office, gave coalition representatives a chance to discuss the EITI board's decision and ask direct questions to the EITI International Secretariat. “The future of EITI in Azerbaijan depends on CSOs a lot,” said Jonas Moberg, head of the secretariat.
An active discussion around the 2013 EITI report—and whether this document would inform the validation process—followed. A 2014 report does not exist because of a discrepancy in views. According to Azerbaijan's EITI work plan, the country was to produce a report by the end of 2014, but the international commitment for this action had a deadline of December 2015. Dvyeke Rogan, regional director of the EITI Secretariat, said that when evaluating this provision, the validator could mention that the country still has a year to meet the deadline and fulfill work plan provisions. Joining via Skype from New York, NRGI's Erica Westenberg then delivered a session on the role of CSOs in the validation process and explained the new CSO protocol, which ensures effective and free participation.
Most recently, an EITI MSG met last month in Azerbaijan to discuss developments in the country—including signs that the government is interested in collaborating—and prepare for validation. A working group assembled to answer several questions from the EITI International Secretariat concerning provisions of the EITI Standard that were not met by the country.
Looking ahead, the EITI MSG will meet again before the early validation to review new research and analysis based on data from EITI reports. These coalition members and experts hope to reach some compromise that will allow CSOs in the country to benefit from EITI's singular path toward accountability and transparency within the extractive sector.
Fidan Bagirova is NRGI's senior regional associate for Eurasia.