Jocelyn Fraser, PhD Candidate, Mining Engineering // May 12, 2015
Our research team travels to Ulaan Baator – the capital of Mongolia, a country that once ruled the largest land empire in the world. Today, the city is the home to +1 million people, an eclectic mix of old and new, rich and poor, traditional and modern. It is a city where crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure is juxtaposed against traditional gers and modern gleaming high-rise towers. And it is a city hard hit by the economic downturn in the international commodity market: idle building cranes dot the landscape and unemployment numbers high.
We have travelled to UB, as it is known locally, to present the findings of our comparative analysis of 13 EITI member countries’ sub-national reporting (SNR) plans and implementation. We have concluded that Mongolia is amongst the best positioned of the developing world countries we studied. Our in-country meetings both confirm and negate our findings.
When we meet with the EITI secretariat, we learn Mongolia has implemented an electronic database system for reporting sub-national revenue transfers. We are told that a common SNR template and nomenclature has been established, and that workshops are scheduled this year to provide training for local officials tasked with SNR. Of the 21 aimags, 19 are now using the database to record revenues from SNR.
At the Mongolian Ministry of Mines we are updated on the status of extractive industries transparency legislation now before parliament for review. Our host firmly believes this legislation will reduce corruption and facilitate transparency.
Yet civil society organizations (CSOs) paint a different picture, asking the challenging question: what has the EITI done to support transparency in Mongolia? They tell us the EITI reports are dense, incomprehensible to many, and because the EITI does not mandate reporting on how extractive revenue is used, the average citizen has little reason to be engaged with the EITI.
Critics allege no one would even notice is the EITI ceased to operate in Mongolia, lamenting the waste of millions of dollars of donor funding. Mining companies, already encumbered for the cyclical nature of the global commodities market, cite the challenges of trying to manage within the confines of the electoral cycle, struggling to maintain programs in the face of changing personnel and priorities.
Our meetings remind us of the vast discrepancy that can exist between academic theory and its practical application. We leave UB the richer for our experience: both academically and personally. We remain convinced of the importance of transparency yet recognize the gap that can exist between words and deeds, and of the importance of making policy information clear, concise and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to stakeholders.