Bank's policy in a “crisis of implementation”

A panel believes the Asian Development Bank’s (A.D.B.) Social Safeguard Policy document is in a “crisis of implementation,” leading to environmental and social problems occurring on A.D.B. project sites.

The panel, convened during the 52nd A.D.B. Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors in Fiji, included A.D.B’s Woochong Um, Director General in Knowledge Management and Walter Kolkma, Director of Independent Evaluation, who responded to four panellists offering different issues with the social safeguards policy.

Annabel Perreras, Advocacy Coordinator on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank from the non-government organisation Forum on A.D.B., said while of the multilateral development banks (M.D.B’s), the A.D.B’s policies are the “standard-bearer” of quality, their implementation has been lacking.

“What we see is that the bank is facing a crisis of implementation,” Ms. Perreras said.

She outlined five areas where her organisation’s research has found gaps, including in the disclosure of information on projects, a lack of scrutiny on due diligence requirements, and gender action plans lacking responsiveness to community needs.

Saying the 2009 Safeguards Policy Statement is “becoming an aspirational document” due to flexibility on how safeguards are applied, and how project leads viewing their application as “burdensome”, Ms. Perreras said the standards must not be watered down.

“Over the next 15 years we may be looking at up to US$90 billion global infrastructure investment, mostly in emerging and developing economies, that will see a massive urbanisation.

“Think about the risk if this investment is done the wrong way.”

A.D.B’s Social Safeguard Policy Statement was published in 2009m and has undergone two independent evaluations since then in 2014 and 2016 by Walter Kolkma and his team.

Asked whether Ms. Perreras’ presentation was new to Mr. Kolkma and Mr. Um, Mr. Kolkma said the bank does have an open line of communication with NGO’s, but they do want to hear of cases the bank should address, especially at the evaluation stage.

Mr Um said some of the weakness highlight by the presentation are weakness his division has noticed also.

“We are continuously trying to improve ourselves in terms of meeting all the need on the ground,” he said.

“At the end of the day we do our projects to help people on the ground so it’s not to do things faster or slower but make sure beneficiaries benefit from the projects as intended.”

Director of the Safeguards Division of the ADB Bruce Dunn said he doesn’t agree there is a crisis, but that implementation can always be strengthened. He said the bank holds a genuine commitment to implement their safeguard policy fully.

“The last thing we want to see is projects that aren’t compliant, that lead to an impact on a community or individual,” Mr Dunn said.

“What we are actually setting out to do is reduce remaining pockets of poverty, improve people’s lives, improve the environment. That is a genuine commitment. To fail on safeguards is failing ourselves, as well as those people.”

The panel also heard from Rayyan Hassan, Executive Director of the NGO Forum on ADB. He shared stories from project affected people’s in Nepal, who desperately want the Safeguards Policy Statement to be simplified and made clear so they know their rights.

But according to Mr Dunn, “the devil is in the detail.”

“You want to make it simple so you go to a very simple set of principals that are easy for everyone to understand but obviously the devil is in the detail and the more you simplify you then are going to be asked what is required in practice.”

Mr Dunn said looking more deeply into whether the balance has been struck between simplicity and detail will be addressed in the next policy review.

The Safeguard Policy Statement outlines three main safeguards: on the environment, on involuntary resettlement, and on indigenous peoples. It is broken into policy principles on each area.

“The critical thing is that the relevant information that is relevant to that affected person is available in a form and language they can easily understand and relate to,” Mr Dunn said.

“That is going to be different in different contexts and for different people.”

Full translations of all project documents may not always be necessary and could waste resources, he said, which is why it is not a requirement of the bank.

Importantly, Mr Dunn said his division is going to strengthen approaches to meaningful consultation, especially as it is different for every context and project.

“Often when we review complaints we receive you can trace them back in one way or another to the issue of stakeholder engagement and meaningful consultation,” Mr Dunn said.

Today, the ADB and other multilateral development banks and financial institutions have a working group, and are cooperating on a guidance note on consultations, which they all have various issues with in their projects.

ABD is also working on its grievance redress mechanism, in order to ensure when complaints are made, they can be addressed promptly.

“With any project, even if it is well designed, stuff is going to happen,” said Mr Dunn.

“People will have grievances and the best way to deal with that is quickly, and at the local level.”

Mr Dunn said he wants to hear from anyone who believes there are safeguard issues occurring on ABD projects, before the official complaint stage so his division can take action where possible.

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