This year Asian Development Bank (ADB) is celebrating its 54th year of operations in Asia and the Pacific, at the same time, it is also conducting a review and update of its 2009 Safeguard Policy Statement (SPS). Despite the aspirational promise to enhance the systems which prevent and minimize damage to the environment and communities, NGO Forum on ADB network thinks that it could do more.
According to the Independent Evaluation Department (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 Financial Intermediaries (FI) in submitting their safeguard reports, with minimal 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 provided across all operations.
Titi Soentoro from Aksi!, an organization focused on gender, social and ecological justice in Indonesia, explained that the “safeguards review should address the problems identified by the IED report in 2015 and 2020 about non-effective safeguards delivery, noncompliance of FI and ignorance of the weaker CSS of the borrowing countries. If the root causes of those problems are not addressed, even the new 'modernized' SPS (as the ADB safeguards team loves to say) would face the same problems in the implementation”. She also added that “ADB safeguards should not be aspirational safeguards with promising wording to protect people and environment from its operation, but really implementable safeguards. The safeguard review has to look at this problem to see the structural barriers and failure to implement those requirements. And, I would like to suggest that you look first at the Safeguard Operation Manual.”
The same sentiments were also expressed by NGO Forum on ADB Policy Analyst Nadeen Madkour focusing on affected communities, “Bank’s projects particularly those operationalized by the Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) have been linked to the grave human rights violation. In 2017, a gas cylinder blast claimed the lives of six Vietnamese workers in the ADB-funded Nam Ngiep 1 Hydropower Project in Borikhan, Lao.” Madkour also made mention of a similar incident in Cambodia where the Bank ignored impending warnings from both their resettlement consultants and CSOs on the social and physical cataclysm following the resettlement of more than 4,000 families living on the dilapidated railway tracks. These warnings later transpired resulting in the death of three resettled children.
There is also the impact of the COVID-19, the pandemic replaced face-to-face dialogue. As more interactions and consultations shift to online and remote communication, there is much concern about this sole dependency on this form of communication for the Safeguards Review Process, resulting in a weak and diluted policy.
M. Zakir Hossain Khan from Change Initiative and Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED) said “During the pandemic time equitable governance is key for proper using of external debts effectively and it is crucial for both lending entities like ADB and the governments who are historically weak in the governance to adopt proper safeguards against any anomalies. However, it has been observed that neither DFIs nor the governments took adequate measures during preparedness to respond to Covid 19 and that led to not only unabated erosion of integrity in the procurement but also reduced access of the general citizens in public health”. Khan also emphasized that there are many instances that the debt provided for both emergency responses and budget support has been misused due to weak accountability. “A new global pact or deal is required to ensure the meaningful accountability of both supply and demand sides of external debts, citizens-led independent assessment of debt-needs and monitoring of utilization as an integral part of any external funding to ensure transparency.”
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.
Yesterday, in the Meeting Between Civil Society Organizations and ADB Management at the 54th Annual Meeting of the ADB, ADB’s President, Masatsugu Asakawa, made an explicit commitment to zero dilution on the Safeguards Policy. Despite the favorable response from the Bank, Madkour asked “ADB’s President Masa has committed the Bank to zero dilution of the Safeguards Policy in yesterday’s CSO event but will it deliver?”
The NGO Forum on ADB is a network of civil society organizations (CSOs) that has been monitoring the projects, programs, and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
*** There is a CSO Panel Session on Civil Society Reflections on ADB’s COVID-19 Operations today, May 04, 2021, from 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM (PHT), you can watch it here to get more information. This panel session is part of the ADB 54th Annual Meeting.