Statement to the Sustainable Development and
Climate Change Department Regarding Preliminary Information Session and the Consultation Process
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we work and interact. This has also impacted and in many cases replaced face-to-face dialogue. As more interactions and consultations shift to online and remote communication, we as CSO organisations are concerned about this sole dependency on this form of communication for the Safeguards Review Process.
Colleagues who attended previous information sessions organised by your department, Sustainable Development and Climate Change (SDCC) at the ADB and other video forms of consultations have iterated a lack of inclusivity, coherence in the methodology and approach across different dialogues. Much of the responses received from the “Consultation” as well as the “Technical” team on critical issues such as project categorisation, the use of country safeguard systems, the safeguard requirements of financial modalities such as Financial intermediaries and many more have been met with vague, contradictory, and defensive responses.
Many of the video consultation meetings arranged so far have been organised in a webinar format[i] where interaction and input from CSO & guest attendees were minimal and limited because of the structural design of the sessions. The sessions had failed to create a space which was conducive to an open, inclusive, and meaningful two-way dialogue. Furthermore, most of the meetings scheduled by the Bank had been allocated 90 minutes out of which only a meagre 30 minutes were left forCSO input and interaction. In fact, in most cases CSO attendees were asked to submit their questions beforehand and were given no time to elaborate or reflect on the information relayed by the bank staff. We have articulated our reservations in a number of informal chats with your department and yet, the same format has been once again adopted for the “Preliminary Information Session on April 12”. We, as CSOs, feel that this way of communication has allowed for an unequal & hierarchical power asymmetry. We are deeply concerned that without a complete revision in approach by SDCC this practice of one-way, insulated form of communication will be perpetuated further during the formal consultation process of the Safeguards Policy Statement Review Process.
A review of development literature would indicate that meaningful consultation with community members and civil society organisations (CSOs) is a prelude to effective engagement. This has been recognised with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), which the Bank lends its support to. Such consultation goes beyond simply ‘informing’ both community and CSOs of its plan, be it at a project, policy, or simply consultation level. Meaningful consultation means that the lending agency staff, community, and CSOs enter into a dialogue with a level-playing field and with the intention of incorporating the ideas and priorities communicated in this exchange. The final design of the project, policy, and plan should reflect the responses received during these consultative dialogues. This process not only leads to active participation, but also local ownership and authority throughout the development process. Meaningful consultation, when it is an open and inclusive dialogue, also corroborates the principle of “leaving no one behind” underpinning the 2030 Agenda. These principles have been abandoned by your department time and again.
The review of the Safeguards Policy Statement should be informed by the people whose lives, communities & livelihoods will be affected by ADB-supported projects and the wider CSO community supporting them and representing their interests. Given the significance and far-reaching implications of this review, there should be a robust consultation process and public disclosure of relevant documents. Unfortunately, to date, neither has been envisioned. We ask your department, SDCC, to ensure that the upcoming review is transparent, meaningful, and inclusive, by:
Extending the timeline of the review to allow for a more robust process;
Publicly disclosing the full Stakeholder Engagement and Communication Plan and other documents pertaining to the review such as Background and Analytical studies, including relevant timelines prior to any formal information-sharing or consultation sessions;
Including adequate opportunity for feedback and equipping the Review Team with robust means of collecting and reviewing comments;
Including several opportunities for in-person consultation and holding outreach meetings to solicit input not just from CSOs but also local communities and project-affected peoples undergoing or have undergone compliance review since the implementation of the Safeguards policy.
First, we understand that this consultation process will take place over a relatively short period of time. Considering the challenges, we face due to the COVID19 pandemic we ask your department to reconsider this timeline to ensure that the SPS review is legitimate and robust, incorporating the recommendations outlined above.
We are deeply concerned that, given the lack of transparency in this process, the Review Team’s report and recommendations will not be disclosed before the Board. Given the far- reaching implications of this review process, stakeholders must have an opportunity to see and provide feedback on the recommended changes.
Second, we are deeply disturbed that the full Stakeholder Engagement & Communication Plan and other relevant documents to the review process have not been disclosed prior to your Information-Sharing Session on April 12. Some of the signatories to this letter participated in a brief informal introductory meeting with the Review and Consultation Team tasked with examining and analysing the ineffectiveness of the SPS policy of 2009 and fostering a working relationship with your department for a mutual benefit. While the participants appreciated the opportunity to meet with the team, meaningful engagement was difficult because the participants lacked information about the Engagement Plan and the issues under consideration. Moreover, although there has been subsequently a public announcement with some details of the review, it is still difficult for the broader public to know the full suite of the issues of the Safeguards Policy currently being examined. The secrecy behind the review sets a dangerous precedent with respect to transparency and hinders stakeholders’ ability to be useful to the Review Team. For stakeholders to participate in this process effectively and meaningfully, they must know the full parameters and be able to raise any issue concerning those parameters or overlooked during the Review process. The review process must not be veiled, and we request the full Plans and the findings of the Analytical Studies carried out for this review to be published immediately.
Third, the Review Team should have a structured means of receiving input from global communities and CSO stakeholders, and input should be gathered over a designated and broadly publicized comment period. Posting an announcement on the ADB website with an email address and form to send feedback is just not enough. Although the guidelines and toolkit for stakeholder outreach (found in Strengthening participation for development results: An Asian Development Bank guide to participation, 2012) is imperfect and has also suffered from a lack of transparency, it has at least incorporated good practice of combining electronic and written consultations with face-to face methods in a representative sample. In addition, the Review Team should have the ability to meet with stakeholders around the world, prioritising project complainants and local communities (for eligible cases triggering the SPS 2009 non-compliance through investigations by the Compliance Review Panel). Not having these opportunities hinders the Review Team’s ability to understand community perspectives and experiences with the Safeguards Policy of 2009. This lays the groundwork for an incomplete review and will be a disservice to those of whom ADB are accountable.
Finally, we are deeply concerned that, given the lack of transparency in this process, the Review Team’s report and recommendations will not be disclosed before the Board. Given the far- reaching implications of this review process, stakeholders must have an opportunity to see and provide feedback on the recommended changes. We look forward to the ongoing engagement with SDCC and hope you will ensure the principles of an open, strong, inclusive, and meaningful two-way consultation process are upheld during this very important policy review.
NGO Forum on ADB
_____________________________________________ [i]ADB Philippines CSO FGD on Accountability Mechanism and Safeguard. With the following dates - Environment Safeguards and Accountability to Project Affected Persons - 29 January 2021; Involuntary Resettlement and Accountability to Project Affected Persons - 3 February 2021; and Indigenous Peoples and Accountability to Project Affected Persons - 3 February 2021.
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