Changing Planet

Transparency in Trinidad and Tobago: Charting a Pathway for Financial Inclusion from Oil Revenue

Guest article by Nneka Mentore

In a recent visit to the resource-rich Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, I had an opportunity to meet with a graduate of the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, Nneka Mentore, Community Relations Advisor for a MNC, operating in Trinidad and Tobago. She had undertaken research on the country’s engagement with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), supervised by Australian-South-African researcher Dr. Kathryn Sturman. In this short guest-article, we provide a summary of their research findings and suggestions for how to make such initiatives more effective in resource-rich small-island states.

The oozing oils of Pitch Lake, Trinidad – one of the world’s largest asphalt deposits – Photograph by Saleem H. Ali

INTRODUCTION: THE PATH TO EITI IN THE CARIBBEAN

Trinidad and Tobago has a long history of mineral extraction dating back to the British colonial period when asphalt deposits were found in the area known as the Pitch Lake. The country developed rapidly as a resource economy and currently has the third highest GDP per capita in all of the Americas – after the United States and Canada. Yet, the revenues from oil rents have not delivered all the development dividends that the local citizenry may have anticipated. In this regard, the government embraced an international initiative to promote transparency in the extractive industries through auditing of resource tax and royalty payments to public sector entities.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a tri-stakeholder approach, comprising representatives of government, the extractive sector and civil society, which seeks to improve the transparency and reduce the corruption associated with this sector. Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) obtained EITI candidate status in January 2015. The EITI Criteria states that “civil society should be actively engaged as a participant in the design, monitoring and evaluation of this process and contribute toward public debate”[1]. The EITI requires that “civil society not only be consulted, but be given a seat at the table and a vote in critical decisions” (Goldberg, 2008, p. 10). In light of the defined Civil Society Organisation (CSO) role in the EITI process, we evaluated  the extent to which CSOs have represented the broad range of views within the country on extractive industries.

The EITI defines civil society as “all of a country’s social and civic organisations – such as development charities, academia, community groups, women’s organisations and faith-based organisations – that do not have commercial or government status” (EITI Business Guide, 2008). The T&T chapter of the EITI — which we will henceforth refer to as TTTEITI — utilised the definition of civil society as prescribed by the World Bank as “non-governmental and not-for-profit organisations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations. CSOs therefore refer to a wide array of organisations: community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith based organisations, professional associations and foundations.” It is interesting to note though that the World Bank’s definition identifies labour unions as an organism of civil society.

Stakeholder Perceptions on TTEITI Representation

In 2013, the World Bank contracted renowned national civil society organization – The Rose Foundation – to conduct a series of civil society engagement workshops in six (6) different locations throughout the country. Five such sessions were held in Trinidad – Barrackpore, Arima, San Fernando, Mayaro and Port of Spain (POS) and the sixth session was held in the sister isle of Tobago. These local surveys were particularly helpful in that they provided a listing of participants from CSOs which operate within the extractive community of Mayaro and the capital – POS. This listing was then used to assist in identifying respondents for the Mayaro and Port-of-Spain communities.

We used this engagement as the basis for our own evaluative interviews with fifty respondents to gauge the level of satisfaction and inclusion with the civil society engagement through the Steering Committee (SC) of the TTEITI. All 50 participants agreed that the role of civil society was vital to the strengthening of the TTEITI but aside from the twenty Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) affiliates, the other participants were not aware of the process used to choose the SC civil society organisations. Some participants recommended that an annual evaluation of the role played by the civil society organisations in educating wider civil society and the population as a whole should be conducted and inserted within the annual TTEITI report.

All 50 participants also voiced their belief that the scope of the TTEITI should be re-examined/re-drafted to provide the civil society organisations with more power. They opined that civil society on the SC should be provided with the mandate to not only assess and review reports but speak on behalf of the citizenry and determine how and in what ways the royalties earned from the extractive sector should be spent. The respondents all expressed feelings of disempowerment by the current political and economic realities of the country.

Although 10 respondents (comprising 4 fishermen and 6 youth) could not identify the other members of the SC, they all expressed an interest in knowing more about the TTEITI and particularly in understanding the data in the annual report. These ten respondents expressed their perspective that their respective SC civil society organisation should implement community-based, educational outreach programmes directly targeting citizens who they purport to represent. The youth suggested that the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Council (TTYC) should host a roving caravan to  visit schools across the nation and educate the young at such locations. An additional 10 participants believed that the role of educating citizens should be performed by the respective SC civil society representative and not necessarily the TTEITI since they were uncertain that the TTEITI could “speak our language” and “help us understand what the reports mean for us on the ground.”

Lessons on Stakeholder Inclusion

Our research reveals that the T&T government’s sole selection of the CSOs to the SC has diminished the transparency of the process in the eyes of wider civil society and in so doing, negatively impacted the CSO’s credibility with these stakeholders.  Perhaps the Mauritania model would have resulted in greater buy-in from wider civil society and the lengthened timeline to select the CBOs and would have actually increased the perception of transparency and independence of the TTEITI. The fact that the additions to the SC were made well after the TTEITI process was underway again impacts the perception of transparency and credibility of the CSO on the SC and the very TTEITI process.

Nationally, a level of analysis was based on the quantum of organisations selected in proportion to the number of CSOs in Trinidad and Tobago.  The analysis revealed that in the most recent count by the United Nations Development Programme (2011) there were over three thousand (3000) registered CSOs in Trinidad and Tobago exclusive of special interest groups. Using this figure, the CSOs selected to the SC represent only 0.2 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s CSO population. One can therefore argue that the current number of SC CSOs is significantly under representative of the wider CSO community.

It is also noteworthy that organisations with a wide historical and national geographic base; whose constitution is enshrined within the national laws and whose origin pre-dates this country’s independence, such as the National Association of Village and Community Councils, were not selected. These organisations could have been invited to participate or become involved at the SC level, thereby providing greater “currency” and representativeness within the extractive, rural communities. There is a clear difference between the engagement and communication process used by the OWTU and other SC members. This researcher opines that the engagement, dialogue and educational outreach programs implemented primarily by the OWTU and to a lesser extent by the SC’s Youth Arm supports the interest of the nation on educating citizens about the TTEITI and these organizations will continue to drive the development of T&T. They should be empowered to select more representative CSO members on the SC to speedily realize the goal of an EITI compliant country.

Saleem H. Ali is Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA) and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Enterprise. Dr. Ali is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2010 and World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" (2011). His books include "Environmental Diplomacy" (with Lawrence Susskind, Oxford Univ. Press) and "Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future" (Yale University Press). He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali.

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