Thursday, 28 June 2018

Alternative Accountabilities and Inclusive Mapping: Lessons from The Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor

By Mercy Denedo, Ian Thomson and Akira Yonekura

In our paper titled “Accountability, maps and inter-generational equity: evaluating the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor” published in Public Money and Management 38(5), 355-365, we explored the accountability expected of Public Sector Organisations (PSOs) assigned the responsibility of protecting the natural environment, intergenerational and intra-generational equity. If PSOs are not held accountable for the social consequences of their activities, then this might negatively affect the distribution of social, economic and environmental rights, risks and resources between present and future generations. Our central theme is whether enhanced accountability will drive changes in organisational practices associated with more sustainable ways of living. This paper evaluates the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor (OSM), an innovative public sector accounting sustainability system created by a coalition of campaigning NGOs and the Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) by exploring the OSM system along with interview evidence conducted with different stakeholders in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Unusually for accounting-sustainability hybrids which are practices used to make visible and thinkable the sustainable governance of economic, ecological and social life, the OSM is adapted from public participation geographic information system (PPGIS).

PPGIS comprises techniques that address the absence of information on the social and environmental impact of the action of others. PPGIS use a combination of community engagement practises and geographic information system (GIS) to facilitate public participation in policy making, problematisation of the actions of others, supporting civic society groups, and reforming governance systems (Carver et al., 2001; Ramirez-Gomez et al., 2017). PPGIS also incorporates activist practises such as counter mapping or maptivism and is often an integral part of citizen science programmes. From the perspective of accounting hybridisation, there are a number of common attributes associated with PPGIS. These include making invisible data visible, connecting high level concepts with specific geographic localities, presenting information from different sources, co-production, filling critical information gaps, stakeholder inclusion, and visualising complex relationships for intra-generational engagement and intergenerational equity (Brown et al., 2012). PPGIS have also been observed as increasing the power of communities to demand greater accountability from institutions whose actions affect their ability to live sustainably (see also here and here). Many of these attributes are shared with sustainable accounting and sustainable governance offering an alternative pathway to accounting hybridisation. In this paper, we explored the OSM’s effectiveness in terms of enhanced accountability, stakeholder engagement and improved regulatory practices in preventing, stopping and remediating oil spills in the Niger Delta.

Unsustainable activities of oil companies, corruption, third party interference and sabotage in conjunction with ineffective regulators have led to Niger Delta being ranked as one of the worst petroleum damaged ecosystems in the world. The OSM was designed to improve the governance and accountability associated with oil pollution provides open access to detailed accounts of the cause, timing, location, quantity of pollutant, remediation programmes related to all oil spills. The OSM makes visible oil spill data, how oil corporations are fulfilling their legal duties, as well as, the impact of third party interference. The OSM’s origin lie in activist campaigns against the actions of oil corporations and regulators using a range of tactics including PPGIS. Following years of campaigning against the oil spill regulatory regime, corporate practices and third party sabotage; the OSM was developed by a coalition of NGOs in partnership with NOSDRA as a solution to the lack of reliable information from corporations and NOSDRA. The OSM provides real-time information on the management of oil spills measured against NOSDRA’s statutory responsibilities. The OSM was intended to enable government agencies, oil corporations, civil society groups and communities’ members to co-produce accounts of oil-spillage, engage and share critical information.

Integrating sustainable development into public sector accountability and sustainable governance systems is deemed necessary to create social, economic, cultural, political and environmental wellbeing for present and future generations. Protecting the natural environment is linked to protecting intra-generational and inter-generational equity, particularly when damage to the natural environment persists overtime. Aligning public service accountability practices with sustainable development is critical for the governance of others to achieve an equitable redistribution of costs, risk, harm, resources and benefits across generations.

Sustainable governance systems are concerned with managing the social, economic and environmental risks emerging from unsustainable practices. Accounting possesses a powerful set of practices that can play a number of important roles in sustainable governance systems, in particular rendering visible and governable the risks of unsustainability. Accounting can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of those institutions responsible for sustainable governance. At an operational level, accounts of actual or potential harm through regulatory breaches can trigger corrective actions or policy interventions by PSOs. Managing social, economic and environmental sustainability across generations requires accounts to challenge institutions to fully discharge their responsibilities by ensuring effective risk management policies and stakeholder engagement. Given the importance of PSOs to sustainable governance, we argue that PSOs should integrate relevant aspects of sustainable development into their accounting and accountability systems. The absence of effective accounting-sustainability systems in PSOs, including environmental regulators, might limit the attainment of inter-generational equity. Accountability practices need to be embedded within robust governance systems in order to change policies or practices to protect the environment and human rights in the context of sustainable wealth creation and its distribution across generations. Within the Niger Delta, whether the dramatically improved disclosures of oil spillage through the OSM system will lead to future reforms of the social, economic and environmental governance of the oil sector remains an open question to be answered by practitioners, oil corporations and the regulatory agencies.

Brown, G., Montag, J. M. and Lyon, K. (2012). Public participation GIS: a method for identifying ecosystem services. Society & Natural Resources, 25(7), 633-651.

Carver, S., Evans, A., Kingston, R. and Turton, I. (2001). Public participation, GIS, and cyberdemocracy: evaluating on-line spatial decision support systems. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 28, 907-921.

Denedo, M., Thomson, I. and Yonekura, A. (2018). Accountability, maps and inter-generational equity: evaluating the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor. Public Money and Management, 38(5), 355-364.

Ramirez-Gomez, S. O. I., Verweij, P., Best, L., van Kanten, R., Rambaldi, G. and Zagt, R. (2017). Participatory 3D modelling as a socially engaging and user-useful approach in ecosystem service assessments among marginalised communities. Applied Geography, 83, 63-77.

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