Interview with Transparency International Advisory Committee Chair, Peter Eigen

24/09/2008
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Interview with Transparency International Advisory Committee Chair, Peter Eigen

The Chair of the Advisory Committee of Transparency International and of the Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Peter Eigen, on Tuesday, September 23, 2008, rounded off his two-day visit to the Bank Group. In an Interview with Felix Njoku of the External Relations and Communications Unit of the AfDB, Mr. Eigen discussed the strategic importance of EITI, emphasized the need to turn the table on corruption in order to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction, especially in Africa and other developing countries. "Corruption is very much also the responsibility of the north," Mr. Eigen said.

Question: After nearly two days of interactions with Bank Group officials, what are your impressions? How would you assess Bank performance in the EITI process?

Answer: We have cooperated on EITI with your staff at conferences and as you may know, Bank Group President Kaberuka was at the global founding conference in Oslo. So, I consider our partnership with the AfDB as something very solid.  This visit is meant to reconfirm and consolidate the relationship. Last week, I had a wonderful meeting with Mr. Kaberuka during which he basically confirmed everything he had said about the EITI.  He continues to support the Initiative and will be a keynote speaker at a stakeholders’ conference we plan to hold in Doha in February next year.  He also agreed to participate in the Mediterranean High level Roundtable here in Tunis in November. So in many ways, I left my meeting with him with the feeling that there is a very solid and very important relationship between us.

Yesterday, I had the chance to address the board of the Bank on EITI and we had a very interesting exchange. It is clear not all the Executive Directors are fully familiar with what the EITI is all about. Some of them had genuine questions about the process. But in the end, we reached a consensus and agreed on the need to bring in some of the good performing African countries into the EITI.  South Africa and Botswana, for instance are likely to come on board to dispel this idea that it is a sort of northern initiative to deal with problem cases.

We also addressed a staff seminar Monday, September 22, 2008, because we consider the staff as the Bank’s most important asset.  They are the ones with the experience, who take the risk, deploy their know-how and drive to translate policies of the Board into reality. And again, it was a most energizing meeting. I felt totally at home, that we are really one family in promoting EITI, particularly at this time when Africa is experiencing a real bonanza from rising oil and commodity prices. So, I feel very grateful for this opportunity and the chance to meet the media in Tunis to convey the message about our new corruption perception index which was launched worldwide today. I am very happy that I had a chance to do this on African soil with your help.

Question: Currently, 16 of the 23 countries working with EITI are African. However, none of them has been certified EITI-compliant. In your estimation, how long will it take a hard-working country to qualify for certification?

Answer: EITI has a process which takes a country through 18 different steps, developed by an advisory group which worked on it for a whole year. This is to make sure that a multi-stakeholder governance of this process will be relevant at every implementation stage. I would think the first four steps are the important ones because they include the commitment of the government at a very high level to participate in EITI. It includes the willingness of the government to put together a multi-stakeholder group which will be in charge of managing the process in the country. This would comprise the private sector, civil society organizations, the public sector as well as one high-level person, appointed by the government with the power of convener. This is very often a minister or permanent secretary. The other condition, a very technical one, is funding for the multi-stakeholder group to implement it activities. When this is done, the country becomes what we call "Candidate country".  We are happy with the role played by AfDB staff in enabling these countries reach this stage. The Central African Republic will join the group soon. We also have very interesting countries trying to join such as Iraq, Botswana, and South Africa. 

With regard to your question as to why no country has been validated, I would attribute this to the age of our organization which is rather young. Nigeria has reported four times. Azerbaijan has reported seven times. It’s up to us to get a validation system in place quickly. We have drafted the terms of reference, we have arranged for the recruitment system for valuators which have been declared eligible. So we are very confident that all 16 candidates (soon to be 17) from Africa will be validated in the next year or so.

Question: There have been calls for the expansion of the scope and reach of EITI  to include, among others, forestry and fisheries. What is your take on this?

Answer: In a way, these calls are logical. I found it interesting listening to the Executive Director from Seychelles yesterday when he said they were very much interested to have fisheries on the EITI schedule.  And already in Liberia, they are including forestry. But we have to be careful that we do not bite more than we can chew. After all, our secretariat was only established in 2007. So we are one year old now and must first learn about the operations, payments and reporting mechanisms in the oil and mining sector.  Already, in the mining area, we are facing enormous challenges. For instance, in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, people are engaged in artisanal mining which is almost impossible to track and report on. This situation exists in other countries even when supposedly reputable companies are involved.

The fisheries and forest sector pose greater challenges. Some of the poor countries in this sector are basically pillaged by large companies from the north. There is a lot of pressure for us to work in these sectors, but it will take some time. 

Question: What is the core message of Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perception Index which you announced on Tuesday?

Answer: The central message in the 2008 CPI is that corruption is inimical to development and growth both in poor and rich countries. The report indicates across the board that while some countries have made progress in reducing corruption, others have relapsed. Many countries are coming out of this year’s report with ratings less than 5, which is the middle of the range. Any country below 5 is a major corruption country.  It’s a call to leaders of countries below the middle point to do something about corruption.

This is also a sign that things can change for the better. I noticed that Nigeria has improved quite a bit. Mauritius has improved.  So, in a sense there are possibilities to deal with corruption. On the other hand, some of the rich countries like the U.K. and Norway have fallen back on the index.  So, again, this is an indication that corruption is not a monopoly of African leaders. Corruption is very much also the responsibility of the north.  So, this year the message is that we must remind countries in the northern hemisphere that they have to enforce the OECD convention on corruption more rigorously.  The report reminds us that corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to development, fighting poverty, avoiding violence in many parts of the word, and therefore, gives us the mandate to work together

Question: What drives Prof. Eigen toward these noble missions – a craving for moral probity or mere intellectual activism? 

Answer: Well, it is very hard to be objective when you talk about yourself. After all, "yourself" is your most favorite subject. So the temptation to put a positive spin on it is tremendous. But I try to be very realistic; I must admit that I have always had a tremendous commitment to justice. I have a tremendous sense of fairness. If I see children in an African village, for issuance, suffering, they can’t go to school; they can’t go to the doctor, because of the corruption in the temple, just makes me sick. It’s sickening to realize that 4 million people have died in the DRC in the aftermath of the Mobutu corruption mayhem. These should spur people to try to make a difference. I do not want to blow this up in terms of morality. It’s simply my vision to do the right thing and having worked for 25 years at the World Bank on development issues, you simply become committed to making sure that you want to help the poor live a decent life.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this interview do not reflect those of the AfDB


Speaker

Name: Peter Eigen Title: Transparency International Advisory Committee Chair