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Procedures for World Bank’s new accountability mechanism lacks transparency and inclusivity

In a press release issued early last week, the World Bank has announced that the review of its independent accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel, has been completed and that a few major reforms were added to the Inspection Panel. Accordingly, a new accountability mechanism – an “expanded” one as the Bank says, called World Bank Accountability Mechanism’ will be in place from September 2020 and will constitute two separate roles – the Inspection Panel (IPN) will focus on the review of compliances of projects with Bank’s operational policies and a separate Dispute Resolution Mechanism (DRS) will resolve the grievances of affected communities, in a time bound manner, instead of compliance review. While housed under one umbrella, the DRS will organisationally be separate from the IPN to ensure its effectiveness and to avoid conflict of interests.

New Roles, Governance Structure

Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) of Multilateral Development Banks have different governance structures and varied roles with assigned functions. It is necessary to see the new reforms of WB’s IPN in comparison to the previously established roles of both Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Accountability Mechanism (AM) of Asian Development Bank (ADB), since most of the complaints from Indian communities have been registered with these IAMs.

There were only four IAMs that offered both compliance review and dispute resolution services – namely CAO of IFC, the Complaints Mechanism (CM) of European Investment Bank (EIB), AM of ADB, and Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) of African Development Bank (AfDB). Now WB’s new IAM will also offer both compliance review and dispute resolution.

The CAO reports to the President of the World Bank Group, while the dispute resolution component or ‘problem solving function’– the Office of the Special Project Facilitator in ADB’s AM report to the Bank President, and the compliance review component – Compliance Review Panel in AM report to the Board of Directors.  The new IAM of WB will be governed by an ‘Accountability Mechanism Secretary’ (AM Secretary) who will be appointed by and report directly to the Bank’s Executive Directors. While administratively integrated in this new mechanism, the IPN members will remain fully independent and continue to report directly to the Board on all compliance investigation matters. Which effectively means, the DRS staff will report to the AM Secretary who then will report to the Board, whereas the IPN will directly report to the Board (Whereas, the CAO staff along with its three functions – dispute resolution, compliance and advisory- report to the CAO Vice President).

Organisationally in the new IAM, the IPN will have no role in DRS.  The IPN will continue to be constituted and operate as established in the IPN Resolution.

Operationally, the new IAM will apply the existing eligibility criteria of IPN for compliance for its dispute resolution function. There will be no change to the current practice of recommending eligibility, when a complaint is registered, based on the IPN’s current eligibility criteria. During the eligibility phase, the IPN recommends eligibility for compliance. After the Board has approved the eligibility for compliance, the AM Secretary will offer an opportunity for dispute resolution to the parties. If Borrower and Requesters voluntarily agree to go for a dispute resolution, the case will be referred by the AM Secretary to the DRS. The AM Secretary will inform the Board, the IPN and Management of the parties’ decision. In case the parties agree to use the DR process, the compliance process of the IPN will remain in abeyance. If the parties do not agree, the AM Secretary will inform the Board, the IPN and Management and the case will be taken up by the IPN for a compliance investigation. The Parties to the DR process would be the Requesters and the Borrower’s relevant project implementing agency.

While ADB’s AM has a slightly different approach – one can approach its problem solving function office – the Office of the Special Project Facilitator and file a complaint regardless of whether ADB operational policies and procedures have been violated ( this mandate is required only if one is approaching the Office of the Compliance Review Panel).

Meanwhile, the CAO’s Ombudsman function responds to dispute resolution complaints and if they are not solved, they are transferred to the compliance review function.

Extended Eligibility time limit for Requesters to file Complaints

Except the IPN, almost all other IAMs had established their own mechanisms much earlier. They all have longer eligibility time periods for complaints registrations than the IPN. Yet, In the case of the CAO, the eligibility ends when the institution’s engagement with the client or the project ends. Whereas for AM, the latest date by which a complaint can be filed is 2 years after the loan or grant closing date. This date is known in advance, disclosed to the public, and can be found on the ADB website. Their brochure also shows the timeline in which a complaint is processed and responded to.

For IPN, this time requirement will be changed so that any request filed up to fifteen months after the closing date of the loan financing the project can be accepted by the IPN. This requirement will be applicable only to new projects approved by the Board after these changes take effect.

Formal recognition of the Inspection Panel’s advisory role

Advisory services focus primarily on the lessons that the IAMs learn about the functioning of MDB operational policies. The advice can be given as recommendations in specific compliance reports, lessons learned sections in annual reports and in other publications. The CAO has a robust advisory policy, where the CAO provides independent advice to the President of the World Bank Group and management of IFC and MIGA.  CAO advice focuses on broader social and environmental concerns, policies, procedures, strategic issues, and trends. CAO’s focus is on preventing future harm and improving IFC/MIGA’s performance systemically as their policy states,

The IPN did not have explicit advisory authority. The IPN does provide informal advice through statements in its compliance reports and its publications, including its annual report and Emerging Lessons series. The press release states that this advisory role has been formalised from 2018.

Formalization of the Inspection Panel’s practice of coordinating with co-financiers’ accountability mechanisms on joint complaints

The World Bank engages in co-financing arrangements with other MDBs. In these cases, requesters could file requests for investigations regarding the same set of issues with the IAMs at two institutions. This always led to two challenges. The first challenge arises when one IAM receives a request regarding a project whose agreements stipulate that the policies of another institution govern the project, like the case is with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The second arises from differences in the procedures of the two IAMs, such as different time limits for eligibility and different rules on sharing draft reports with the requesters. None of the IAMs have developed any explicit policies or practices on how to deal with these situations. Instead, they have dealt with these situations by signing a case-specific MOU detailing how they will cooperate in investigating the same project. The World Bank is yet to clearly state whether these challenges have been addressed or they remain the same, irrespective of formalising arrangements with co-financiers’ IAMs.

Sharing IPN report with requesters before consideration of the Board

This procedure came into effect from 2018, but is officially declared now under the enhancements for IPN. Earlier, IPN’s investigation report was not shared with the requesters until after the Board had approved it. The requesters maintain that this had created two problems. First, the practice was unfair because requesters were being treated differently from Management. Second, requesters lack the knowledge to engage effectively with Management about the action plan.

Independent and proportionate risk-based verification of Management Action Plans

All the IAMs, except the IPN, are expressly authorized to monitor the implementation of the management action plans (MAPs) developed to address the IAMs findings of non-compliance and the outcomes of dispute resolution procedures. All IAMs that engage in dispute resolution have authority to monitor the implementation of the outcomes of the dispute resolution if the parties so request. In addition, the IAMs including CAO and those at the AfDB, ADB, EIB, EBRD and IDB have authority to monitor the implementation of management action plans developed in response to findings of noncompliance. The authority of the IAMs does vary. In some cases, the IAMs are authorized to monitor all cases in which they have made findings of non-compliance. This is the case with CAO and ADB’s CRP.  In the case of the AfDB’s IRM and the IDB’s MICI this authority requires prior Board authorization. It is usually given at the time the board approves the IAM findings on compliance and is based on a recommendation from the relevant IAM.

From September 2020, the IPN can now verify MAPs in those cases where proportion and risk criteria will include (i) urgency of redress, (ii) risk of repetitive harms, (iii) number and vulnerability. The IPN recommendation, generally, will be made after substantial implementation of the MAP or, if the monitoring report indicates lack of implementation, at any stage of implementation. In exceptional cases, upon IPN recommendation, with input from Group Internal Audit, the Board can discuss and assign verification at the stage of approval of the MAP or shortly after. This process will avoid an automatic “one-size-fits-all” approach. The benefit of this option is that the Board would be assured of receiving independent reports on the adequacy of the management action plans, but restricted to few cases only.

How the procedures fell short

The World Bank’s Inspection Panel was the first accountability mechanism (1993) of its kind for the development finance institutions, which was established as a result of people’s struggles against the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project on river Narmada in India. The tenacious campaign around this project led to the formation of the Morse Commission, which strongly criticized the World Bank’s performance in the areas of environment and resettlement of people displaced by the construction of energy projects. Over the years, the Panel has played a major role in trying to adhere to accountability at the Bank and attempting to secure redress of grievances in some cases. Though established as an independent mechanism from the Bank management, the Panel majorly reported the eligibility of the complaint to the Board of Directors of the Bank and did not possess strong recommendatory powers.

When the review of IPN was first announced officially in 2017, Indian peoples movements, civil society and affected communities had called out to the Bank to keenly call forth to strengthen the IPN mandate. While appreciating the World Bank on this effort for a review on the occasion of Inspection Panel’s 25th Anniversary, the CSOs criticised the Bank for giving less than a fortnight to seek comments on this issue. They demanded to extend the deadline by at least two months in the interest of the sanctity of the process. They further stressed that wider publicity should be given to ensure better participation in the process. “The current consultation is designed and carried out to exclude affected communities, for whom the Inspection Panel is established,” the signatories said with much disappointment.

During the deliberations in a symposium organised in India at the 25th year of IPN, in which both the Inspection Panel and Compliance Ombudsman Advisor (CAO) participated remotely, the inadequacy of IAMs in functioning independently and efficiently; lack of capacity and powers to promote and ensure accountability; failure in intervening timely to ensure that the voices of the affected people are adequately heard, addressed and issues resolved; and lack of powers to stay the progress of project construction in cases of extreme violations, were highlighted.

A brief look into the newly released report of the Bank,  ‘Report And Recommendations On The Inspection Panel’s Toolkit Review’ (March 05, 2020) shows that the external review “did not  make recommendations but provided options in seven areas: (i) advisory services, (ii) Bank Executed Trust Funds (BETFs), (iii) co-financing, (iv) sharing findings with Requesters, (v) problem solving/dispute resolution, (vi) time limit on eligibility for requests and (vii) monitoring of Management Action Plans (MAPs)”. And that subsequently, a Working Group of the Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) that included members from all Executive Directors’ offices, was established to consider the areas identified by the Review.

When the Bank announced in 2018 that CODE was inviting submissions from relevant stake holders, the Indian civil society had strongly asked for transparent and wider consultative processes with extended time period for affected communities. Opening up the process; adhering to the principle of free, informed and prior consent; adequate time; holding consultations widely and not in national capitals/metros alone; unmasking the ritual format of such processes; IPN having suo moto powers; IPN having suo moto powers for timely intervention – even during the early stages of project appraisal; IPN having a pro-active role even to delay the progress of any project until the violations of the project have been comprehensively corrected and compensated; IPN having monitoring function; IPN having punitive powers and measures for demanding for a fresh Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) wherever erroneous ESIA have been found, were the recommendations from the Indian groups.

During both times, the Bank did not acknowledge the receipt of the submissions from India. Despite the recorded exhaustive measures which were being adopted by the Bank to see through this review, this process has been quite the opposite in nature– opaque, extremely limited opportunities for concerned civil society stakeholders and especially for the affected communities to share relevant inputs. The information available in the public domain was restricting in its scope and the final draft proposal was not shared, despite requests being sent by concerned groups from outside India to the Bank. This was a striking drawback, especially in the wake of IFC having faced defeat at the United States Supreme Court on the Immunity Verdict last year, on the case filed by Indian farmers and fishworkers on serious violations caused by IFC-funded Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in Gujarat India.

With the assistance of the IPN and Management, CODE identified eleven projects whose stakeholders had experience in the IPN process within the last seven years to provide feedback. The selected projects took into consideration regional representation and included projects that had gone through all the different steps of the IPN process. The procedures for arriving at this decision and who all were the stakeholders from these eleven projects is not in the public domain. This tunnel vision and consequent decision making is flawed.

The entire process lacked transparency and inclusivity.

It is further stated in the recommendations that the new Mechanism will be headed by an “Accountability Mechanism Secretary” (AM Secretary) who will be appointed by and report directly to the Bank’s Executive Directors. The AM Secretary will be responsible for planning and overseeing the processes of the Accountability Mechanism in line with agreed procedures and will be responsible for keeping the records of the AM proceedings. She/He will also oversee the Dispute Resolution Service. All staff of the Accountability Mechanism will report to the Accountability Mechanism Secretary with the exception of the Inspection Panel members, who will continue reporting to the Board of Directors. The DR process would have a one-year time limit in order to provide assurance that the process is not prolonged and incentivize the parties to reach an agreement. This administrative challenge is going to present problems with the affected communities who would find it challenging – in the first place to finish the eligibility process of their complaint in English language, the wait during delayed timeline of these complex processes and now having to identify whether they need a compliance review or a dispute resolution.

While it is appreciated that requesters of complaint can submit their grievances beyond project closure (for new projects with effect to the new change in IPN), a distinct DRS will be operational in six months, and an independent and proportionate risk-based verification of Management Action Plans would be established as an additional assurance, they still do not address the fundamental questions ever posed at the Bank by the communities. Will these changes impact the affected people in any positive way? The tight schedules and methodologies lacked a genuine effort for meaningful consultation. Currently, the onus of identifying Bank’s lending to a particular project, understanding the Bank Operational/Safeguard Policies, knowing about the existence of IPN and developing a complaint in a manner acceptable to IPN is on affected communities. This structure disempowers the communities for they are never consulted in advance with full disclosure of impacts, lenders and of compensation/rehabilitation for their losses in most of the projects. Hence in projects, IPN has knowledge about serious impacts, it should have powers to take suo moto investigation as well as actions. Particularly in cases of high risk or ‘Category A’ projects, knowing the potential irreparable consequences, the IPN should proactively look out for the involvement of the potentially affected communities and facilitate their observations/complaints. Sadly, none of these reflect in the “enhancements” mentioned in the review report for the mechanism which boasts of 27 years’ wealth of documented information and engagement with affected communities and civil societies all around the world.

Humanity Absent from World’s most Acclaimed Development Report

By Tani Alex

The World Development Report (WDR) is the World Bank’s development research and policy review report published annually. Started by IBRD since 1978, this report is intended to provide deep and extensive analysis on one particular aspect of economic development, every year. The solutions and policy messages brought out in this report is widely scrutinised by researchers, policy makers, governments and civil society since this ‘flagship’ report is supposedly the Bank’s highly prized research contribution to the development world. Heavy research budgets, far-reaching dissemination and the legitimacy of ‘World Bank’ publication make this a cherished one for the Bank. Few of the previous years’ reports focused on education, health, environment, risk management, poverty, the role of the state, youth, agriculture, equity and public services delivery.

Quick Glimpse into the development of WDR 2019

The World Development Report 2019: Changing Nature of Work (WDR 2019) examines the changing nature of work and firms, laying emphasis on the impact of technology and digital innovation on the current global economy.

But what made this report a highly talked about one in the recent debates on development? The Bank’s previous president Jim Yong Kim writes in his foreword that this document shows the transparency of work since it was open to all for modification of drafts, almost every week online. And then, there were more than a million downloads even before halfway its publication which also made it the most downloaded report in 2018. Another occasion to note is that its preparatory phase was delayed by the Bank’s then chief economist Paul Romer’s resignation[he was the first director of WDR 2019], over his controversial remarks on the direct correlation between the political leanings of the staff and annual rankings of countries in Ease of Doing Business process of the Bank. Subsequently, the work was taken over by Simeon Djankov, who is the Founding Director of the much sought-after, yet much criticised, Doing Business Reports. Yet another highlight of this report was the introduction of Human Capital Index [The human capital project examined in WDR 2019 will be explained in another section of this article], again contested, where countries will be now ranked annually in terms of a child attaining optimum productivity after having attained education and full health from birth till 18 years of age.

Paradoxical Messages of WDR 2019

But above all, this report faces strong criticism for its two pertinent direct messages – deregulation of businesses and shifting obligations of firms/employers for social protection of workers/employees to the shoulders of the State. Few voices have come out globally carefully analysing the nuances of various explanations given by the Bank to establish the context for its suggestions for the future of work for the evolving economy.

It is true that the report has failed to give a rounded, well-thought critique on the actual challenges faced by workers in the accelerated transformation of the world of work.  To put it short, critically speaking, this report is inherently characterised on anti-worker perspective. The deregulatory solution brought out in this report parrots almost all the editions of Doing Business Reports since 2003 promoting private sector development and having influenced watering down of many regulatory policies across countries to facilitate rapid entry and development of the business.

This was eagerly executed by governments because labour regulations policies allegedly stifled exciting investments and swift economic growth. It is ironical that the same Bank, in its WDR 2013: Jobs, after extensive review on the link between labour regulation and employment [following a massive hue and cry from few governments, labour movements and ILO], had stated that this ‘link’ was non-existent. This obviously shows WDR 2019 disproves the exhaustive findings of WDR 2013!

Moreover, the Bank, during its previous Annual Meetings at Bali during October 2018 had introduced its new Environmental and Social Framework, where respect for workers’ rights in Bank’s projects was entered as Labour Safeguards [ESS2– Labour and Working Conditions]. Not less than two weeks later after the much appreciation for Bank’s new safeguard policy, came WDR 2019 in direct and stark contrasting opinions. This is highly contradictory and problematic from the Bank’s side sending two conflicting messages in two separate yet distinguished policy publications.

Story Line of WDR 2019The world of work is progressing rapidly with technological and digital innovations including robots and Artificial Intelligence. Stable jobs are giving way to Gig- jobs and digital market places paved the way for platform market places and superstar firms. “Innovation will continue to accelerate” and there are growing chances, as already seen in many countries, that automation would replace the low-skilled redundant labour. Hence the jobs remaining outside automation would require highly skilled work-force that would have exceptional cognitive skills [logic, reasoning, critical thinking], socio-behavioural skills [teamwork, resilience, confidence, leadership] and skills of predictive adaptability [‘an individual now can have not many jobs but different careers in one lifetime’].

In order to feed into this need for a productive workforce, education and health must be critical for every child [starting from birth, especially until 5 years of age] and adult [adult learning outside the school and tertiary education. Therefore, the bank’s new Human Capital Project and Human Capital Index examines closely at this aspect of development and will recommend policy actions through country strategies. And what about those who fail to fall in the ‘formal’ and productive workforce, namely the informal workers? Well, they will be given social assistance [various forms of UBI, negative tax], social insurance and State will protect them with basic minimum, and if possible reskilling and upskilling initiatives would be undertaken].

All said, the gap of finances which then the State is faced with can be covered by mobilizing tax revenue – by imposing VAT, excise tax on tobacco, alcohol, sugar, etc. and by expanding the tax coverage base, along with further strengthening of global efforts of OECD and G-20 to agree together on preventing tax erosion and profit-shifting through tax havens.

And thereafter, to accommodate all these policy changes, there should be political incentives for governments through new social contracts for the State to protect all, whether they are formal or informal workers, whether they are employed or unemployed and wherein the returns to work for the State is also guaranteed.

It finally follows that the goal of social inclusion is achieved thus. Well, aren’t we all made happy and all looks rosy!

A Few Disquieting Specifics from WDR 2019

Apart from the disguising semantics of WDR 2019’s storyline, here is a list of important suggested possibilities of what might not be well with a large number of us globally, if its recommended policy actions are adopted by governments:

  1. Minimum wages, which ensured fair returns to workers against exploitation of employers, shall be reduced – employers are free to reduce the wages to the bare minimum.
  2. You and I can be fired from work at will. Because we pose structural rigidity to firms.
  3. Employers will be made free from providing workers’ protection rights (imagine how this would read for those who work in occupationally hazardous environments especially and already for those working as independent contractors and gig-workers who juggle multiple careers who do not fall under the regular labour category)
  4. Already data is given in the report of advanced economies enjoying the productivity of robots, while the employment growth has been steady and has not been affected. But how can these be ideated with that of situations in poor and low-middle income countries?
  5. Workers are expensive if labour rights and protection are implemented in every firm, hence do away with labour regulations! [Shake hands with the similar recommendations of Doing Business Reports!]
  6. The present Bismarckian model of social security scheme based on workers’ and employers’ voluntary contribution will be changed since they do not include the informal workers who are 2/3rdof developing country population.
  7. The informality of works worldwide poses a huge problem of workers not being able to be adapted to the past faced requirements of the transforming economy. Majority of us will be jobless unless we keep on learning if we are adults. No mention of senior citizens in the report.
  8. Digital marketplaces, to read accurately, ‘intangible marketplaces’ get away with not having to pay taxes and profit-shifting. So, let the governments finance their basic social welfare schemes and assistance by expanding the tax base and increasing regressive VAT. Imagine how a poor or developing nation would suffer from the burden of it – the ordinary man’s wages go into his daily sustenance and will not have savings, and then he needs to pay VAT over what he consumes for his survival!
  9. Various forms of Universal Basic Income [UBI] are recommended.
  10. Rich will get richer, poor will be increasingly poorer (seems the Gini coefficient hasn’t moved altogether for some time)

Other General Global Concerns with WDR 2019

The following broad critique has been collated and arranged from all the sources given in this article, hyperlinked at various instances.

  1. Lack of significant research data
  2. Selective data and evidence presentation
  3. Casual handling of the subject with sweeping generalizations
  4. Central assertions of the document [except maybe a little in the Building Human Capital and Lifelong learning] are devoid of solid and reliable data and genuine analysis.
  5. The Bank has perhaps allowed right-wing ideologies to trickle down into their research reports.
  6. While stressing the need to acknowledge the rise of platform markets and independent contractors, legal protection and safeguards for the emerging distinct labour force [who have also met serious resistance while campaigning for their rights like Uber Drivers] have not been addressed.
  7. Pro-business and superstar firms agenda
  8. Growing inequality of economies inadequately discussed
  9. “Disregarding history, blinkered to indigenous protests, pretending there’s a peaceful pathway to all things good”

Longstanding observers of WDR over many years has recognised the emerging pattern of the Bank to move away from their adopting best practices to better learning by doing exercises. And that the Bank has been engaging in wider politics for better acceptance of their policy recommendations, including the “elite interests and ideologies; addressing collective action problems; building support for reform…legitimising a wider consensus”, for “pro-poor experimentation.”

The report has not just suggested eliminating the responsibility of social protection from the private sector and superstar firms, but altogether failed to address and recall the need of commitment from advanced nations to contribute in global development, by limiting the scope of the report to just low and middle-income economy experiments and discussions.

Much disappointing and worse is the fact that, here, human beings are pitted as human capital only, to be tailor-made for ‘productivity’. In the impatient race for economic growth and capital, the creativity of humanity, the plight of less privileged and marginalised, the ever-present resistances of people’s groups and movements, declining natural resources and accommodating other living beings, much less…the essence of life and living itself is non-existent in this ‘development’ report.

इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर निवेश: विकास या विनाश

एशियन इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर इन्वेस्टमेंट बैंक और भारत का नेशनल इन्वेस्टमेंट एंड इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर फ़ंड के निवेश संकट की और एक इशारा

भारत में जलविद्युत विकास को बड़े पैमाने पर बढ़ावा

इस सेक्टर में निजी क्षत्रे को आकर्षित करने के लिए सरकार ने 2016 में इस पर चर्चा शुरू की कि नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा के क्षत्रे को और विस्तृत किया जाए ताकि 25 मेगावाट क्षमता से अधिक के जलविद्युत स्टेशन भी उसमें शामिल किए जा सके। इससे सरकार को 2022 तक 175 मेगावाट नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा उत्पादित करने के लक्ष्य को हासिल करने में मदद मिलेगी।

Big Push for the Development of Hydropower in India

It is noteworthy that currently, coal-based power projects are under threat due to lack of coal linkages and power purchase agreements, thus stalling many existing power projects and discouraging many companies from expanding to new coal power projects. This would give a boost to hydropower projects in many regions, especially in the Himalayan regions.

India paid over 600 crores between 2009-2015 to the IFIs for not using their loans

~ Maju Varghese

Every year, India pays an enormous amount of money as commitment charges to the multilateral institutions for not utilising the loans sanctioned by them. Investopedia defines commitment charges as the fee charged by the lender to a borrower for an unused or un-disbursed loan since it has set aside the funds for the borrower and cannot yet charge interest.

According to the CAG,  between 2009-2015 India paid commitment charges up to 602 crores to the external lenders. In 2014-15 itself, India was holding Rs. 2,10,099 crores of unutilised funds thus inviting a commitment charge of Rs. 110 crores. Finance Ministry had found that between 1991 and 2009, the government had paid approximately Rs 1,400 crores as the commitment charges for loans not utilised.

The commitment charges are coupled with interest while reporting by the ministry of finance which makes it difficult to understand the charges paid to different agencies in a fiscal year. The CAG observed that putting commitment charges under the head “interest obligation” is misleading as it does not reflect the nature of expenses.

Arun Jaitley, the Indian Finance Minister minister of India, has been raising the issue of commitment charges. In the 94th development committee of the World Bank, he raised the issue of commitment charges which is highest among multilateral development Banks and demanded its withdrawal. This was again repeated when the demand when the CEO of World Bank visited the country and met the Finance Minister. India is among the countries which are graduating from a low-income country to lower middle-income country resulting in loss of concessional finance from IDA loans.

World Bank charges a commitment charge of 0.25 per cent per annum on un-disbursed loans even if they are committed to be drawn in subsequent years. This is in addition to a front-end fee, a fee paid by the borrower to the lender before the loan offtakes, of 0.25 per cent on loan agreement amount (applicable on current loans). These commitment charges begin accruing 60 days after the loan agreement is signed. Despite resistance from the countries, the World Bank has stated that it will not be able to remove commitment charges due to its cost recovery guidelines.

According to the CAG, India had a total outstanding debt of 51,04,675 crores as on March 31, 2015. This increased to around 57,021,582 crores on August 15, 2016, which means a per capita debt of Rs 44,032. This comes to around 41 per cent of the GDP. To service this massive debt, India pays about 36,318 crores as interest payment every year. CAG further reports that in 2014-15, 77 per cent of the long-term internal borrowings and 73 per cent of the external borrowings were utilised for debt servicing, implying that a larger percentage of debt was being used for paying the existing debts. This, in turn, meant the lower percentage of debt was available for meeting developmental expenditure to promote growth.

Swatch Bharat and commitment charges

The World Bank had approved a US$1.5 billion loan for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), Modi government’s much-hyped flag-ship campaign on Sanitation to support the government’s efforts to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation. The loan sanctioned in 2015 is the Bank’s biggest lending in the social sector.

The mission has provision for incentivizing states on their performance in the Swachh Bharat Mission. The performance of the States will be gauged through an independent survey based measurement of certain performance indicators, called the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). However, due to lack of independent verification of results, India missed the first disbursement of the loan. According to the media reports, India is likely to miss the second tranche too. Despite not receiving a single paisa, India has paid the commitment charge, interest, and front-end fees of USD 15.40 million so far.

The payment of commitment charges to the multilateral agencies because of governmental inability to plan and implement shows a lack of seriousness in using public money. CAG has mapped and pointed out the inefficiency of governments in utilising funds. The money that we pay as fine and commitment charges are a waste of public resources as pointed out by CAG in the reports from time to time. The proposal to set up a public debt and management agency for proper planning of external debt is still pending in spite of various statements by the finance minister.

Multiple CAG reports on debt need to be taken on a priority basis, and an oversight mechanism should be created within the parliament of India through a standing committee to look into external debt and also its investments abroad and making it transparent and accountable to the citizens of the country.

50 years of ADB – The Indian story of resistance

The Asian Development Bank was conceived in the early 1960s as a financial institution that would foster economic growth and cooperation in Asia. India was a founding member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is now the fourth-largest shareholder. ADB commenced operations in India in 1986 and has approved 240 loans totalling $36.8 billion.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has grown to be the third largest source of development finance in the Asia-Pacific region, next to the World Bank Group and the Japanese Government. Documents published in 2017 reveals that from a lending portfolio of just over $3 billion during the first decade, ADB has expanded its lending to $123 billion during the last 10 years.

However, the Mid-term Review (MTR) of ADB’s strategy for 2015 and 2020 have acknowledged that the Asia-Pacific region faces widening inequalities in income and access to economic and social opportunities. Increased investment in infrastructure has failed to provide inclusive growth and social protection to the vulnerable sections of the populations including the workers and women.

India had about 84 ongoing sovereign loans from ADB amounting to $11.9 billion at the end of 2015. Currently, we have about 170 active projects in the country of ADB alone. The massive Vizag-Chennai corridor, the numerous urban development projects across the country, the ReNew clean energy projects in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, are only a few of the 50 odd active and approved projects. Further 23 projects have been proposed to the ADB waiting for approval. These are just projects covered by ADB, adding them to the projects funded by all IFIs shows the extent of their influence in almost every sector – energy, infrastructure, health, etc. The scale of land grab, loss of livelihood, environmental destruction has been completely overlooked by both the IFIs and the government. The rampant privatisation of all the sectors, including health care, is going to affect all those who would not be able to afford health care. In such a time, holding the development banks accountable has become imperative for one’s survival with some modicum of dignity.

 

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ADB Investments in India. Source: Answer by the government to the parliament of India

 

ADB 50 campaign in India

The first week of May 2017 was marked by actions across the country against ADB and other IFIs. It coincided with ADB’s 50 years celebrations in Manila. The massive protest actions were intended to send a strong message to the ADB and other IFIs of the havoc their investments have caused. Thousands of people, in over 140 locations spread in over 21 states in India and over 80 organisations, came together to make this campaign a massive success. These protest actions are both a reminder of the reckless lending of ADB and hope to continue the struggle against the IFIs and their inequitable development model.

The coming together of so many organisations resulted in a wide range of programmes, including the public meeting, lectures, demonstrations, and human chains. Activists also made short video clips highlighting the impacts of the investments by IFIs. The protests actions raised concerns about investments of IFIs like World Bank; International Finance Corporation; Japan Bank of International Corporation (JBIC); Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank; New Development Bank; Exim Banks of Korea, United States, China among others. Many of these agencies are co-financiers, with increasing investments in the infrastructure and cross border projects, thus causing irreversible damage to the people and environment, while their policies to safeguard the harm caused by their investments are made opaque and watered down.

The actions mentioned above on the occasion of 50 years of ADB are a part of the continuous struggle of the people from all the regions that have been affected by the projects.

Communities affected by Tata Mundra approach US court to review “absolute immunity” doctrine

After a Judge declared World Bank immunity cases “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by the Tata Mundra project approach US court to review “absolute immunity” doctrine

Communities harmed by Tata Mundra coal power plant in India continue to seek justice from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation

July 26, 2017, Washington, D.C., and Mundra: After a federal judge in US declared that the cases giving the World Bank Group an “absolute immunity” from lawsuits were “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by private-lending arm of the World Bank Group have filed a petition asking the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit its immunity doctrine.

In June, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, in the case Budha Ismail Jam v. IFC, had ruled that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-lending arm of the World Bank Group, could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant, which has devastated fishing and farming communities in Gujarat.

In its June ruling, the panel, citing the legal precedents, concluded that the IFC is immune from suit in this case. Justice Nina Pillard, however, wrote a dissenting opinion criticising those decisions as “wrongly decided” and suggested that the full D.C. Circuit, which has the authority to change the law of the Circuit, should revisit those cases.

“The panel’s ruling gives international organisations like the IFC an unparalleled immunity, insulating them from legal accountability regardless of how much harm they cause,” said Richard Herz, senior litigation attorney at ERI, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “Such sweeping immunity, which is far greater than the privileges enjoyed by sovereign foreign governments, is inconsistent with multiple Supreme Court precedents, and is contrary to the IFC’s development mission,” added Herz.

“We will not give up our struggle for justice,” said Budha Jam, a plaintiff in the case, after the verdict.

“This decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalised when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” added Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case. “But no one should be above the law.”

It is noteworthy that the plaintiffs filed suit against the IFC in April 2015 over the destruction of their livelihoods and property and threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded plant. The IFC recognised from the start that the Tata Mundra plant was a high-risk project that could have “significant” and “irreversible” adverse impacts on local communities and their environment. Despite knowing the risks, the IFC provided a critical $450 million (Rs 1800 crore) loan in 2008, enabling the project’s construction and giving the IFC immense influence over project design and operation. It failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to the local communities and to ensure that the project abides by the required environmental and social conditions for IFC involvement.

The plant has destroyed the local marine environment and the fish populations that fishermen like Jam rely on to support their families, and vital sources of water used for drinking and irrigation. Coal ash contaminates crops and fish laid out to dry and has led to an increase in respiratory problems.

The IFC’s compliance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, issued a scathing report in 2013 confirming that the IFC had failed to ensure the Tata Mundra project complied with the conditions of the IFC’s loan. Rather than follow CAO’s recommendation for remedial action, rejected most of its findings, and ignored others. Plaintiffs had no other recourse but to sue IFC. In its ruling last month, the panel recognised the “dismal” situation of the affected communities, noting IFC did not deny that the plant had caused substantial damage and yet found IFC could not be sued.

The harms suffered by the communities are all the more regrettable because the project made no economic sense from the beginning. In fact, in the past month, Tata Power, which owns the plant, has begun trying to unload a majority of its shares in the project for 1 Rupee because of the losses it has suffered and will suffer going forward.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that IFC has waived immunity because this suit promoted the IFC’s mission, which includes the goals of reducing poverty without harming its projects’ neighbours. The IFC interestingly argued that it is not bound by its own mission.

“The court’s judgment supports the arrogance of lenders like IFC, who disregard the law, their own safeguard policies, and even the findings of their accountability mechanisms,” said Dr. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (Association for the Struggle for Fisherworkers’ Rights), which is a plaintiff in the case. “This sends the wrong message to institutions like IFC – that you can continue to lend money to bad projects, causing irreversible damage to people and environment and no law will hold you accountable.”

The plaintiffs are optimistic that the full D.C. Circuit will reconsider the case.

Appointment of a new Indian ED at the World Bank raises a few questions

~ Joe Athialy

With Subhash Chandra Garg assuming charge as secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the Finance Ministry, the position of the Indian Executive Director (ED) at the World Bank has fallen vacant. The 1983-batch IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre, Garg was the ED at the World Bank from Nov 2014 until June 2017.

Appointments Committee of Cabinet decides appointment of important posts under the Government of India, including ED at the World Bank. While in the past the Appointments Committee had the Prime Minister as its Chair and the Ministers for Home and in-charge of the concerned ministry, with a notification in mid-2016, the Appointments Committee is reduced to only the Prime Minister and Home Minister.

There are currently 25 EDs on the board, one each for the seven largest shareholders at the Bank – US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, China and Saudi Arabia. Other countries are grouped into constituencies, each represented by an executive director. Indian ED is in charge of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, apart from India.

The EDs are based at the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington DC. It is responsible for policy decisions affecting the World Bank Group’s operation, and approval of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loan and guarantee proposals and International Development Association (IDA) credit, grant and guarantee proposals.

There are a few pertinent questions surrounding the appointment and functioning of positions like that of World Bank ED:

Shouldn’t the elected representatives of people have a say in the appointment of an ED at any of the multilateral institutions, who represents the interests and positions of the country?

Shouldn’t s/he be guided by the wise counsel of the Parliament, for the positions s/he takes at the Board, given that the positions could have far reaching impact for the country for a long time to come? (In US, Congress provide “legislated instructions” to the ED representing the US at the Bank).

Shouldn’t s/he be transparent and accountable to the Parliament for the positions s/he takes at the Board?

It is the time that we start asking some hard questions.

A first-hand​ report from the AIIB’s Second Annual Board of Governors Meeting at Jeju

By Anuradha Munshi

Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) recently concluded its Second Annual Board of Governors’ meeting in Jeju, South Korea.  The three-day-long meeting, during June 16-18, 2017, saw the participation of Board of Governors, representatives from the finance ministry of various countries, banking industry, corporates, and civil society organisations.

The three days also provided an opportunity for the CSOs to have a discussion with the Jin Liqun, Bank’s President in one of the sessions. In this session, Liqun’s address was followed by a discussion in which about 120 CSOs were present. Liqun said that AIIB is ready to listen, open to criticism, and willing to correct itself. He stated that the Bank ensures that three basic criteria are met before making any investment—financial sustainability, environmentally friendliness, and acceptance by the locals. He further said that the Bank would follow Paris Agreement to support low carbon projects.

However, in spite this being an open session, not much time was provided to the CSOs to adequately keep their points as a few questions were reserved for the representatives of the industries. This left very little time for the CSOs to interact with Liqun, who had to leave early.

The primary concern put forward by CSOs was about the deficiencies in the environmental and social framework, especially regarding the projects funded by financial intermediaries. There were questions on the manner in which consultations have been planned for the AIIB’s complaints handling mechanism. Also, questions were raised on AIIB’s support for the hydropower plant in Georgia despite facing local resistance, which is a violation of a core value Liqun had just enunciated. There were also serious concerns about the recklessness with which AIIB is clearing projects without even having most of its systems in place. It was observed that the answers to most of the questions asked in this session were evasive.

India at AIIB

The meeting saw the participation of Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, senior representatives of the Ministry of Finance, financial institutions, and industry, during the India Seminar on June 16. Jaitley in a seminar on Indian Policy, Progress and Prospect in Infrastructure Development spoke about the infrastructure deficit in the country and the need to focus on it before investing in the manufacturing industry. He mentioned India’s national highway program as a successful model of infrastructure building in the country and based its success on easy exit policy, flexibility, and hybrid policy for revenue. The minister termed success of national highway program as a success of Public Private Partnership (PPP) model in India.

Jaitley also insisted upon the need for additional resources for the functioning of 71 airports and building 32 to 35 airports in new cities to promote regional connectivity. He advocated the provision of tax concessions and subsidies as an incentive to the airlines to fly to these cities.

While referring to the railways, the minister said that much investment is required for the upgradations. He emphasised the need of privatisation of some of its services by citing an example of the redevelopment of 400 railway stations by private companies.

On the infrastructure front, he said that the creation of smart cities and industrial corridors have an enormous potential to generate infrastructure, which he saw as a quintessential factor to bring in investment for the manufacturing industry in the country. He also spoke about the problem of surplus capacity in the power sector; and electrification as a focus area for the Modi government. He emphasised the need to invest in the improvement of distribution systems and electrification and mentioned AIIB’s approval of Transmission System Strengthening Project as an example to highlight the government’s focus on electrification.

The Modi government’s current priority is to invest in the infrastructure sector for which the government is also looking at PPPs as a successful model.  Towards achieving this goal National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) will be the mother fund under which sub-funds are located. Sujoy Bose, CEO, NIIF, who was also present at the AIIB meetings, spoke on setting up of NIIF to raise debt to invest in the equity funds of infrastructure finance companies in India. He emphasised on the need to focus on the infrastructure development to attract international capital as it is mostly interested in investing in constructed assets, and not on infrastructure development. AIIB will consider its USD200 million investment to NIIF as a financial intermediary in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Apart from this, the AIIB is also funding India Infrastructure Fund,  which was cleared by the AIIB Board a day ahead of the Annual Board of Governors Meeting. Likewise, the controversial Amaravati Sustainable Capital City Development Project will be soon considered up by the Board.

These investments indicate the direction in which AIIB is heading on the three core values reiterated by the Bank’s president. If one looks alone at India Investment portfolio of AIIB, two of the projects, IIF (approved) and NIIF (under consideration for approval), will be implemented by financial intermediaries. There is no transparency on who will get these funds for infrastructure development and for what projects in particular. Amravati Project which is up for consideration has been marred by large social and environmental issues like displacement and diversion of forest land in India. From hydropower project in Georgia to the Amaravati Capital City Project, the Bank has neither shown much respect for the environmental and social concerns. The core values mentioned in front of the CSOs are far away from what is being pushed in the country investment open discussions, where the investment is speedy and profitable as the respective governments take care of the land and environmental issues. There are serious concerns about the manner and speed at which both India and AIIB are heading on their investments with priorities centred on the projects and not on environment and people.