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Civil society recommendations on the ADB Safeguards Policy Statement (SPS) consultation process

I. ADB SPS REVIEW 2020: Rationale

In 2020, the Independent Evaluation Department has carried out an evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the 2009 policy and the reform objectives of the Safeguards Policy Update (SPU) of 2011. Since its approval almost a decade ago, the ADB’s portfolio has changed considerably and reliance on sovereign financing to deliver on development outcomes have shifted. With an increase in non-sovereign portfolios using new modalities such as FIs, RBLs and Multitranche facilities, the ADB SPS is in need of modernisation to reflect these transitions in development.

According to the IED report of 2015, the ADB has not delivered its safeguards effectively due to its heavy reliance on consultants. The report also identified the non-compliance of FIs in submitting their safeguard reports with very little action being taken by ADB to hold FIs accountable. Consequently, the IED has also recommended in its 2020 report that Country Safeguard Systems are not ready in the region to deliver on ADB SPS, therefore the onus remains on ADB to ensure that its Safeguards are delivered across all operations.

In order to ensure vulnerable groups, women, children, Indigenous Peoples and people with disabilities are not harmed by ADB operations, the upcoming ADB SPS review has to ensure that project affected communities, and civil society are meaningfully consulted in the process. In essence, the ADB SPS is about the communities and the civil society advocates who support and advocate for them throughout ADB operations. In cases of non-compliance to the SPS the communities will seek out the policy to ensure that harm is avoided, and their rights are protected. Therefore, the consultation process is the first step through which the ADB should ensure that the most vulnerable and critical voices are given utmost priority in the upcoming Safeguards Policy Statement review.

The following input articulates our reflections on the Safeguards Review Process 2020-2022 which is being envisioned by SDCC and a list of recommendations on how consultations should be conducted.

II. Safeguards Review Process 2020 – 2022: Reflections & Recommendations

Issues with video consultations & the current 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 had attended the information session and video consultations organised by the ADB have communicated a lack of coherence in the methodology and approach across different dialogues. Much of the responses received from the “Consultation” team on grave issues such as project categorisation, the use of country safeguard systems, the introduction of new 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 where interaction from CSO & guest attendees is minimal or limited. This does not create a space which is conducive to an open, inclusive, and meaningful dialogue. Furthermore, most of the meetings scheduled by the Bank have been allocated 90 minutes out of which a meagre 30-minute space is given to CSO attendees. In fact, in most cases CSO attendees were asked to submit their questions beforehand and are given no time to elaborate or reflect on the information relayed by the bank staff. We, as CSOs, feel that this way of communication has allowed for an unequal & hierarchical power symmetry. We are concerned that this practice of one-way, insulated form of communication will be perpetuated further during the formal consultation process of the Safeguards Review Process.

So far plans divulged by the Safeguards Consultation Team have shown a sole reliance on online consultation for the Review process under the pretence of COVID19. We are not undermining the severity of the COVID19 pandemic; however, we feel like this will exclude many organisations and individuals who do not have access to reliable electricity supply and internet access.

All consultations on the Safeguards Review Process are scheduled to be conducted in the English language. The region the ADB operates in is a region that is rich in culture and diverse in languages. As a leading development institution in the region, this richness and diversity should be reflected in the way business is conducted and consultations are taking place. The use of the English language as the sole means of communication during the Safeguards Review Process will fail to reach the target communities on the details of the Safeguards.

Development literature and standard discourse proposes a number of meanings to the word “to consult”. For the purposes of brevity, this paper will focus on the practice of involvement and dialogue.

Involvement and Dialogue

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 communication 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.

III. Recommendations

We believe that a transparent and accountable process for reviewing the Safeguards Policy is fundamental in realizing the inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and Pacific declaration lauded by the Bank. In the support of our common interest, we ask that you consider the following recommendations:

  1. The ADB should release an approach paper for the upcoming Safeguards review process detailing the clear process of how the consultation will be conducted, the evaluation matrix, and clear process on how input collected will be used and integrated into the new Safeguards Policy. This approach paper should be shared publicly for commenting at least 60 days before the actual consultation process.

  2. Consultations should not be conducted using the webinar’ format as this limit the space for an open, inclusive, and meaningful dialogue.

  3. The use of English as the sole means of communication in these consultations will fail to reach the target communities the SPS is aimed to protect. The ADB should ensure that consultations occuring at a regional and national level in English are offered in national or other languages which are acceptable to community and CSO participants including sign language interpretations. Translations should be provided for all relevant communication materials and documents including the approach paper.

  4. The ADB should not only rely on disseminating information on the consultation process through online means such as the website, social media, and email. The Bank should make reasonable efforts to reach affected communities living in remote locations with limited or unreliable access to electricity and internet services. This is conducive to effective and community-centered development.

  5. The consultation process should give due emphasis to listen to communities who have been deeply affected by ADB Operations with due emphasis to those aggrieved since the implementation of the SPS post-2009. We firmly believe that project affected communities who filed eligible complaints using the Compliance Review Function especially on ADB SPS 2009 violations and Public Communication Policy violations should be listened to and learned from during this SPS review as these cases showcase the failures of the policy, an integral process to an modernising process.

  6. The consultation process should be undertaken over a minimum of 6-12 months to allow for the COVID19 pandemic to subside and plans for face-to-face dialogues with the diverse groups across Mekong, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Island countries should be taken into consideration.

  7. The current approach to consultation outlined by the Consultation team is fragmented and disengaged. Having three phases of consultation on segregated issues does not ensure that the outcome of the consultation is reflected in the drafting process. To ensure that the outcomes of the consultation are included in the drafting process, a two-round consultation should take place in each phase. After the first round, feedback should be provided to rights holders and external stakeholders on how their comments and inputs have been addressed in an updated draft. The updated draft should then be disclosed for another second round of consultations.

  8. Consultations should pay extra attention to ensure the inclusion of vulnerable groups, especially Indigenous Peoples, gender groups and people with disabilities. Steps should be taken to facilitate the participation of local communities as well as civil society groups and other stakeholders.

  9. The Bank should ensure that all consultations are conducted in an accessible, impartial, and culturally appropriate way which enables the most vulnerable and marginalized populations to actively participate and provide input in an informed manner.

  10. The Bank should publish a detailed budget for the consultation process in order to demonstrate that the Bank is dedicating the necessary resources to this process.

  11. The Bank should make the consultation agendas open for public comment in advance of meetings.

  12. The Bank should allow participants to contribute anonymously in countries where risk of reprisals and repercussions for critiquing the government exist.

  13. At the conclusion of consultation meetings, the Bank should circulate draft minutes & recording to all participants and provide time for comment (suggestion: 30 days) to ensure their opinions have been accurately reflected.

We hope that the respected ADB Board will remain steadfast in their commitment towards the highest standard safeguards, accountability, and transparency for the benefit and protection of the most marginalized stakeholders in Asia and the Pacific. We look forward to discussing the above-mentioned recommendation with you and ADB management to ensure a meaningful and robust consultation process is outlined for the upcoming SPS review process.

Best regards,

Rayyan Hassan

Executive Director

NGO Forum on ADB


Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED)

Youth Group on Protection of Environment, Tajikistan

CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network)

CEE Bankwatch Network


Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific

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