Forum finds itself once again at the forefront of civil society engagement on Safeguards with the ADB, four years after a successful campaign to strengthen the said policy. An omnibus policy encompassing environment, involuntary resettlement, and Indigenous People policies, 2009 Safeguard Policy Statement protects the people and the environment from any harm caused by ADB operations. It officially took effect in January 2010.
SPS Internal Evaluation
In the first half of 2013, the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Department or IED commenced an internal evaluation process of the SPS. ADB expects to end it by September 2014, in time for the mid-term review of the Asian Development Fund XI in the last quarter of the year.
The first phase is an operational assessment of its Country Safeguards System and Financial Intermediary investment in selected client countries. Based on ADB’s original timeline, this process should have been completed in December 2013, with the release of an Approach Paper. Bank insiders said the Approach Paper will most likely be released by April 2014. This means that the process has been delayed by four months.
The second phase of this internal evaluation will be a full policy review of the SPS. Both are being undertaken by IED under the supervision of the Development Effectiveness Committee (DEC).
Historically, Forum Network members and partners have spearheaded efforts of civil society actors in the creation of these safeguard policies. They have led the fight to enhance policy provisions as well as preserve these provisions in both letter and spirit. In the last Safeguards Policy Update that lasted from 2005 to 2009, Forum has successfully pushed for the following:
the elaboration of requirements for meaningful consultation;
the provision for the improvement of lives and livelihoods for involuntary-displaced people,
a more detailed description of processes and requirements in regard to CSS;
safeguard requirements for other financing modalities including FI; and
the improvement of gender language. However, some of the Network’s concerns particularly those related to the language of the involuntary resettlement policy has remained a point of contention.
Concerns and Issues
The forum is closely following the SPS evaluation process (and subsequent reviews) to ensure that the SPS remains a reliable tool of protection for peoples and ecosystems unwittingly displaced, disrupted or destroyed by the Bank’s development agenda. Forum advocates against any dilution of the SPS and urges the Bank to resist caving in to pressure from its public and private clients to water down the policy.
After the SPS became effective in 2010, more borrowers have complained about the long process and strict safeguards requirements for a project or program loan. Hence, there is both increased pressure from these clients for less stringent safeguards requirements. The ADB is also threatened by the possibility of these clients getting loans from other banks with no safeguard conditionality's at all. Furthermore, ADB financing in the form of project loan and technical assistance grants are increasing in many countries. A weaker SPS increases the vulnerability of communities and marginalised groups to social, economic and environmental problems, especially in the face of escalating climate-induced disasters.
Process-wise, an issue that has repeatedly surfaced pertains to how transparent and inclusive of external stakeholders, particularly civil society and affected communities, this internal evaluation is. Compared to the last Safeguards review process, which went on for more than five years, this process has less transparency and inclusivity.
Likewise, Forum recognises that IED’s role as of the SPS evaluation/review is in compliance with SPS Paragraph 82. This was a last-minute addition of the ADB to the SPS document prior to its final approval. This precluded Forum members from intervening on or questioning the appointment of IED.
Under the policy, IED is mandated to conduct the 3-year operational review and the 5-year full policy review upon the effective date of the SPS, which was January 2010. As indicated in the IED approach paper , however, the evaluation will be delivered 4 years and not 5 years after the 2009 approval of the SPS. This is because ADF donors have requested the finalisation of the evaluation before the ADF XI mid-term review in late 2014.
It should be emphasised that the IED web page has not updated its timeline despite the delays in the process. Similarly, there is no significant information about the SPS operational review on the web page of the Safeguards Policy. While it is an internal process, Forum believes that civil society and other stakeholders deserve transparent and up-to-date information on this operational review. In this regard, Forum has lobbied and sent official correspondence to ADB Board members, top Management officials, and IED to involve civil society in the internal SPS evaluation. ADB’s reaction is limited to getting case studies on its CSS and FI implementation from Forum or other CSOs. Similarly, Forum has urged the Bank to undertake a full-scale policy review and meaningful stakeholders’ consultation to further strengthen the policy language and provisions of the current SPS.