International Transparency Regime Formation

Transnational processes have spurred ideas, practices, and networks that seek solutions to new and old global problems.  At the centre of these processes have been attempts to manage global problems around the economy, ecology, environment, and human rights. Many scholars have identified the role of ideas and policy entrepreneurs in galvanizing various transnational movements." name="_ftnref1" title="">[1]  Policy entrepreneurs have teamed up with civil society organizations, governments, and international institutions to influence substantive changes in approaches to dealing with these problems.

The transparency revolution at the heart of the natural resource governance arose in the triumphalist phase of global neo-liberalism that celebrated market efficiency, limited states, and good governance. But this triumphalism was counter-balanced by the profound pessimism occasioned by civil wars, failed, and collapsed states in most of the developing world. These two trends deepened the disciplinary drive of the emerging regimes of restraint that Collier had popularized in the 1980s as the underpinnings to the externally-driven Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs)." name="_ftnref2" title="">[2] Transparency became neo-liberalism’s core tenet of fostering economic openness but also an antidote to the destructive governance practices identified with developing countries, notably corruption, conflict, and corporate irresponsibility. Haufller uncovers these links:

Liberalism anoints the private sector as having significant legitimacy and authority, while simultaneously delegitimizing expansive government action. In this environment, transparency is viewed as a way to regulate the private sector, and information disclosure as efficiency-enhancing and necessary for the proper functioning of markets. Liberal norms of democratic accountability also require public disclosure of information in order to have an informed citizenry. The normative environment today includes ideas about corporate responsibility, which is widely supported by publics around the world. All of these – market efficiency, democracy, and corporate social responsibility – support and facilitate the adoption of policies of information disclosure by corporations as a means of achieving public benefits." name="_ftnref3" title="">[3]

In addition, proponents of transparency prescribed these mechanisms to conflict-prone African governments who, deprived of Cold War financing from major superpowers, had now turned to natural resources to finance their wars against rebels. As Hauffler adds:

For rebels and governments in Africa and elsewhere, the end of the Cold War cut off access to foreign aid and weapons from the US and USSR. They turned increasingly to exploitation and sale of natural resources to finance war and violence, with the result that resource rich countries were the least wealthy in other ways, ranking at the low end of economic and human development rankings. The so-called ‘resource curse’ became an article of faith among policymakers and activists. Failed interventions such as Somalia and elsewhere led policymakers to search for new ways to resolve these conflicts, and resource revenue management appeared to be an innovative alternative." name="_ftnref4" title="">[4]

The key actors in the resource transparency movement were policy entrepreneurs who induced governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and corporations to buy into the norms and ideas around the governance of natural resources. These actors touted the significance of transparency in enhancing information about revenues and budgets as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But, more important, transparency and access to information would also permit citizens to monitor government action, yielding improved accountability and better development outcomes.  Thus, the links between transparency and accountability were taken as an article of faith, propelling the popularity of the new global movement. Over time, however, as Florini contends, transparency became the catch-all phrase for many different ills confronting the governance arena." name="_ftnref5" title="">[5]

Three criticisms have been offered around the excessive fixation with transparency. First, critics of transparency have charged that the focus on information ignores the tenuous links between transparency and governance. Specifically, there are doubts about whether transparency translates into improved accountability and hence better development outcomes. Fenster claims that the interest in transparency stems from a “simplistic model of linear communication that assumes that information, once set free from the state that creates it, will produce an informed, engaged public that will hold officials accountable.”" name="_ftnref6" title="">[6] From this perspective, the links between transparency and accountability are depended on a host of additional factors, including strong oversight institutions. Second, Kolstad and Wiig have argued that international initiatives in resource-rich countries focus on boosting transparency in public revenues rather than expenditures, a fact that denudes their effectiveness, particularly in mitigating the resource curse:

If transparency is important, it is so to the extent that it impacts on the basic mechanisms underlying the resource curse, which are rent-seeking and patronage. It follows that transparency reform should focus on increasing access to information in areas that matter for reducing rent- seeking and patronage … In particular, patronage is a question of the allocation of public expenditures, which suggests that transparency reforms should focus on expenditures rather than on revenues. There is something of a disconnect between prominent current transparency initiatives, and the literature on the resource curse." name="_ftnref7" title="">[7]

Third, transparency reforms aimed at better resource management often target corrupt and insular countries that are less inclined to accept international pressures on governance. The fundamental dilemma is that countries that have strong governance institutions for resource management do not need external entreaties for transparency, yet those that need these institutions most are always reluctant to accept pressures for reform. As Hauffler shows, advocates of transparency seek to change “resource politics in states governed by closed and repressive regimes or those classified as failed states due to inept and corrupt government, violent opposition, and civil conflict. In other words, activism surrounding transparency in resource management is aimed at the most difficult countries to penetrate, and those with the most severe governance problems.”" name="_ftnref8" title="">[8] Equally Weinthall and Luong have asserted that these efforts have frequently failed because in authoritarian contexts “making the state a ‘better’ manager of its mineral wealth requires institutions that promote transparency, accountability, and oversight – that is, institutions that are widely absent in [these] developing countries.”" name="_ftnref9" title="">[9]

" name="_ftn1" title="">[1] For discussions of these scholars see Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change,” International Organization, vol. 52, no. 4, Autumn 1998, pp. 887-917; Thomas Risse, “Let’s Argue! Communicative Action in World Politics,” International Organization, vol. 54, 2001, pp. 1-40, Ann Florini, “The National Context for Transparency-based Global Environmental Governance,” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 10, no. 3, August 2010, 120-131; Aarti Gupta, “Transparency under Scrutiny: Information Disclosure in Global Environmental Governance,” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 8, no. 1,

1998, pp. 1-7.

" name="_ftn2" title="">[2]Paul Collier, “Learning from Failure: The IFIs as Agencies of Restraint in Africa,” In Andreas Schedler and Larry Diamond, eds., The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.

" name="_ftn3" title="">[3] Virginia Haufler,”Disclosure as Governance: The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and Resource Management in the Developing World,” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 10, no. 3, August 2010, p. 56.

" name="_ftn4" title="">[4] Haufler, “Disclosure as Governance,” p. 60.

" name="_ftn5" title="">[5]Ann Florini, The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running the World. Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 2005. See also Michael Mason, “Transparency for Whom? Information Disclosure and Power in Environmental Governance,” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 8, no. 2, 2008, pp. 8-13.

" name="_ftn6" title="">[6] Mark Fenster, “The Opacity of Transparency,” Iowa Law Review, vol. 91, no. 3, 2005-2006, p. 885. See also Klaus Dingwerth and Margot Eichinger, “Tamed Transparency: How Information Disclosure under the Global Reporting Initiative Fails to Empower,” Global Environmental Politics, vol. 10, no. 3, 2010, pp. 74-96

" name="_ftn7" title="">[7] Ivar Kolstad and Arne Wigg, “Is Transparency the Key to Reducing Corruption in Resource-Rich Countries?” World Development, vol. 37, no. 3, 2009, p. 527.

" name="_ftn8" title="">[8]Virginia Haufler, “Disclosure as Governance,” p.  8.

" name="_ftn9" title="">[9] Erika Weinthal and Pauline Jones Luong, “Combating the Resource Curse: An Alternative Solution to Managing Mineral Wealth,” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 4, 2006, p.42.