End of the road: Is the ADB accountable in the Sri Lanka road project?

By Hemantha Withanage and Dr Avilash Roul


The report was prepared after a two-day meeting from 4-5 September 2010 with affected people and petitioners along the 128-kilometre stretch of the ADB-funded Matara-Colombo Highway, more popularly known as the Southern Transport Development Project (STDP) by Hemantha Withanage of Centre for Environmental Justice and Dr Avilash Roul of the NGO Forum on the ADB.


COLOMBO, 15 Sep 10–The Southern Transport Development Project, famously known as STDP, has been the only project which has tried and tested the two phases of the ADB’s 2003 Accountability Mechanism (AM) as well as the 1995 Inspection Function. The Joint Organisation of the Affected Communities of the Colombo–Matara Highway (JOACMH) filed the case to the Special Project Facilitator (SPF) in June 2004.


Although the SPF declared the complaint as eligible on 5 July 2005, unhappy with procedures during consultation phase, affected communities simultaneously went to the Compliance Review Panel (CRP) on 14 November 2004. The CRP declared the case as eligible in December 2004. However, the OSPF concluded the consultation in February 2005 after failing down the mediation process. Since the filing of the STDP case in OSPF and later in CRP, several aspects of effectiveness of AM including its principles, processes and administration issues have been put to test. Last month when the CRP sent a review mission to STDP, the petitioners refused to meet them.


Failure of the SPF is due to mishandling of the mediation process by a facilitator who was biased towards ADB. And the failure may also be attributed to the Mediator hired by the OSPF who was incapable of handling such mediations. People feel much of the issues would have been settled if the mediation was done well. One problem they encountered is that there was only one mediator. Perhaps more than one mediator would have given a better opportunity to settle the problems raised in the complaint.


“AM is part of the ADB. If the government claims that it follows ADB policies and their respective provisions, and the AM follows the government as it is happening in Sri Lanka, where will they find solution?” This has been the quagmire for the affected people in Sri Lanka.


The CRP’s effectiveness has been mixed in the case of STDP. In their opinion, the petitioners are fortunate to use the AM in getting justice. In general, those who filed the case are not the only project-affected people. There have been many more which the AM has not been able to address as they never signed nor they ever filed the case. This gives an indication of the AM’s extent of responsiveness to project-affected people when considering the whole project.


Information on AM must be mandatory in each project

“We are not aware of the AM.” This has been the opinion of project-affected people even if the STDP case has been filed in both phases of the AM. Most people were not aware of the mechanism. Even until now, many people in the resettlement area near the Highway are complaining about the impacts of the construction of the road. They have been communicating their problems to the Road Development Authority (RDA)–the implementing Agency–as well as to the ADB country director in 2009. They are still waiting for a hearing from the executing agency. In their opinion, if they have been aware of the AM at the earlier stages of the project, prior their resettlement in 1999, they could have addressed their concerns to the mechanism. “If the affected people have been informed about the AM at an earlier stage of the project, many people could have been better off,” said one petitioner.


Although some indirectly affected people are in communication with the ADB resident mission they have not been informed about the AM but asked to contact the Project officer who is not willing to meet them. While there is a need of information on AM, the technicalities of the AM process has to be simplified. The CRP procedures as well as the language used are too technical. Projectaffected people are incapable of understanding such technical terms in filing their cases to the AM. While there is a guide to file a case to the OSPF, how come a similar guide is not available for CRP? There is an urgent need to simplify the CRP language and procedures. People think that the availability of the AM should be informed at the very beginning of the project implementation.


Immediate response

Although people affected by the STDP filed the case to the OSPF and CRP, project implementation went on which resulted in additional burden to affected people. The the project must have been stopped while awaiting the declaration of the case’s eligibility, unless the grievances has been addressed completely and satisfactorily with utmost participation of project-affected people. The process of the OSFP and CRP took a long time to resolve the issues on the STDP. This could have been addressed at the earliest stage of the project–preparation stage–with less procedural time frame for the OSPF and CRP.


CRP: Monitoring, investigation and its function

The CRP monitoring and investigation process has not been satisfactory. During the last CRP mission to STDP, all petitioners refused to meet them. It was suggested that the CRP team needs technical expertise to evaluate the specific issues under the complaint. Many were in the opinion that CRP must have a technical advisory team to deal with technical issues such as compensation, value of land and property, environmental know-how, and so on. It is believed that there is a limitation in the function of the CRP. The 2006 CRP monitoring report on STDP shows that ADB management and the RDA did not comply with most of the remedial action proposed by the CRP report issued in July 2005. The report stated that the management has fully complied with three recommendations and partially complied with six specific recommendations. However, it also stated that the management has not complied with three general recommendations and seven specific recommendations that include: “Management should require that all affected persons be fully compensated by actual payment before they are moved.”


According to the people, the CRP visit last month was the final one for STDP. Yet, two of the recommendations were not fulfilled. People argue how the CRP can abruptly stop monitoring at this stage.


If ADB management does not respect the CRP’s recommendations, how will the AM deliver any good? What control does the ADB have once a given project becomes under the control of the executing agency and the borrowing government? The best explanation for the failure of the AM could be “bureaucracy.”


Although the degree of independence of the CRP has been ensured by their appointment by the Board of Directors, it is recommended that the CRP must be allowed to appoint its Secretary, instead by the management, who will assist them in their tenure. Claimants believe that the previous Secretary has controlled over CRP’s decisions due to his biastowards the ADB for being its long-time staff


The scope of the CRP must not be confined to “direct” project-affected people but should also include ”indirect” project-affected people. The responsibility of the CRP must be clearly mentioned in the policy. While people expected a sort of relief from the CRP, the later couldn’t deliver. The CRP has no power to directly address the grievances of affected people. Claimants’ think they were badly treated due to their involvement in the AM complaint. The CRP must have an emergency fund, approved by the Board of Directors, to address the grievances of the affected people.


Effects of being a complainant to OSPF/CRP

The AM in its provisions mention that the OSPF or CRP will keep the identities of the requesters confidential if requested. This has not been the case. Requesters feel that due to their case, they have been intimidated by executing agencies. The safety and security of the signatories of the case was not handled properly. Many believe that due to their name in the complaint, their compensation amount has been reduced than those who were not signatories to the complaint sent to the AM. There has been a psychological pressure to affected people by the executing agencies. There are no clear provisions in the AM regarding its responsibilities in cases where the executing agencies intimidate or exert any form of pressure on affected people. It is more difficult now for project-affected people to file a case in AM in Sri Lanka due to the latest political developments. In this case, the AM is silent.


Co-financing One hurdle that complainants of the STDP faced was the coordination of conflicting issues among the two major co-financiers–the ADB and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)–and the Government of Sri Lanka. The CRP recommended that ADB management should review its co-financing arrangements for the STDP to strengthen the project’s compliance to the Safeguard Policy; specifically on the environmental and resettlement policies. The panel in 2006 reported that “ADB undertook discussions with JBIC on joint strengthening of compliance in September/October 2005, with a view to ensuring strong monitoring of project compliance with the safeguard documents covering both segments of the highway…”


Following this discussion, the ADB and JBIC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on 31 March 2006. However, the panel reported that “the MOU does not address this issue; instead, the MOU states that ‘Each party will be responsible to ensure that commonly agreed standards and environmental and social safeguards would be applied in the section of the Project such party is financing.” The AM must include the cofinanciers and private banks into its fold of purview.


Based on the STDP experiences on AM, it seems that the ADB is only interested in protecting themselves. The cost of the project skyrocketed than the appraisal cost. Many people lost their livelihoods and their social life has been devastated due to the fragmentation of their respected families. The road might be shining, but the accountability of ADB clearly is stained. The ADB must be held accountable to the people.

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