Asian Development Bank breached own policies, says Papalii

Papali'i Malietau Malietoa is concerned the Asian Development Bank (A.D.B) and local partners are not abiding by their own policies.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Papali'i, whose family land is up for development as a Flood Control Multi-Purpose Dam in Alaoa, said the Bank’s own safeguarding policies should have protected families from the unsatisfactory consultation practices of the project proponent, Electrical Power Corporation (E.P.C). 

Last week, he said the consultative process has not been accurate, and has focused too much on sharing the benefits rather than potential risks of any dam.

“I believe that the process thus far has more to do with building a case for a dam rather than the meaningful consultations of affected communities and parties and the importance of their voices in the process,” he said.

E.P.C has been planning the Multi-Purpose Dam since 2016, and the A.D.B came on board to provide Technical Assistance. The amount of funding, and whether it is a grant or a loan could not be confirmed at the time of writing. 

The 2009 A.D.B Safeguard Policy was written in response to rapidly changing contexts in the Asia-Pacific region, where much funding activity occurs.

According to the policy document, “concerns have grown about the long-term sustainability of development.

“The challenge of preventing further impoverishment resulting from environmental degradation and involuntary resettlement, acknowledging the special needs and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable groups, and improving the policies and building the capacity of developing member countries to manage these impacts is acute.”

The A.D.B’s safeguard policy statement outlines its commitment to:

“Avoid adverse impacts of projects on the environment and affected people, where possible; minimize, mitigate, and/or compensate for adverse project impacts on the environment and affected people when avoidance is not possible; and help borrowers/clients to strengthen their safeguard systems and develop the capacity to manage environmental and social risks.”

It seeks to protect against environmental damage, the involuntary resettlement of people and indigenous people. 

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According to the statement, A.D.B will not finance projects that do not comply with that statement, or with the host country’s social and environmental laws.

While the safeguard policy is available online in 14 languages, Samoan is not one of them. This is one of Papalii’s major concerns.

The indigenous peoples’ safeguards are of particular relevance to the proposed Alaoa dam project, which began in 2016 and is scheduled for completion in 2020.

The objective of the safeguard states:

“To design and implement projects in a way that fosters full respect for Indigenous Peoples’ identity, dignity, human rights, livelihood systems, and cultural uniqueness as defined by the Indigenous Peoples themselves so that they (i) receive culturally appropriate social and economic benefits, (ii) do not suffer adverse impacts as a result of projects, and (iii) can participate actively in projects that affect them.”

It is the assertion of many that the absence of meaningful and well-advertised consultation on this project could be a breach of this safeguard. 

Fiu Mataese Elisara, a critic of some of the Bank's practices (while applauding many project intentions) said the absence of due diligence checks on projects is upsetting.

“Those are clear prerequisite requirements at all levels of a project, from the design right up to the completion of it,” he said.

“When I found out that a lot of those steps are not met, there are no due diligence checks on those very clear requirements, I get very upset and annoyed. 

“I guess they have been depending on the fact that very few people, if any raise these issues in the past so they were quite comfortable about going ahead with these types of things, hoping there will not be any person raising red flags.”

Some of the policy principals that could apply to the Alaoa Multi-Purpose Flood Control Dam include early screenings for attachment to the project area, culturally sensitive social impact tests, meaningful consultations and the ascertaining of consent of indigenous peoples for projects.

The policy also outlines an “Indigenous Peoples plan” (IPP) should be written, which includes “a framework for continued consultation with the affected Indigenous Peoples communities during project implementation; specifies measures to ensure that Indigenous Peoples receive culturally appropriate benefits; identifies measures to avoid, minimize, mitigate, or compensate for any adverse project impacts; and includes culturally appropriate grievance procedures, monitoring and evaluation arrangements, and a budget and time-bound actions for implementing the planned measures.”

That plan should be disclosed as a draft, and in its final iteration, and in an understood language, the policy continues. It should include a “participatory monitoring approach,” which should be reported on regularly, and those reports disclosed too. 

E.P.C Project Manager for the Alaoa Dam was not able to comment on the process at the time of writing.

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