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Undermining Accountability at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: A Public Statement from the Concerned Civil Society on the AIIB Accountability Framework
6 April 2018
We, the undersigned civil society groups from around the world, express our alarm and deepest concern about the AIIB’s impending decision on its Accountability Framework.
At its Board meetings this April 8-11 2018, the AIIB is proposing to give the power to approve some projects to the Bank’s Management, rather than the Bank’s 12-member Executive Board. It is as yet unclear which projects will be removed from Board approval, and under which criteria, since it is very little or no information available at the time of this writing.
This decision goes to the heart of the question of governance at the Bank. Board members are accountable to their constituent governments, shareholders of the AIIB, for their decisions. Shareholder governments, in turn, are responsible to their citizens for ensuring that the Bank upholds its environmental and social standards in its lending operations. In essence, the project approval process by the Board provides an opportunity for civil society and potentially affected communities to raise their concerns with their representatives, to ensure decisions are well-informed and take account of potential harms.
Transferring the right of approval from the Board to Management undermines this crucial chain of accountability. It threatens the commitments made by shareholders such as the UK and Germany, as well as other member governments, that they would ensure the AIIB, as the world’s newest multilateral development bank, would uphold international standards and best practice.
AIIB shareholders have indicated that ‘thresholds’ could be set for determining which projects will still come before the Board, including for example whether a project is the ‘first’ in a sector or a country. However, such thresholds are not meaningful in terms of potential harms to local communities and the environment. In addition, public disclosure standards at AIIB are extremely weak with the current draft Policy on Public Information failing to specify the time-bound public release of project specific documentation. This contributes to further undermining the ability of concerned stakeholders to flag potential problems to the Board or the Bank.
The forthcoming Board decision to delegate responsibility to AIIB Management to approve its own projects represents a fundamental shift in the way the AIIB is governed. Such a radical move should not happen without significant public debate and at a minimum full disclosure and discussion around the thresholds for such delegation. In the meantime, civil society requests that the Board defers its decision until further discussions have taken place among key stakeholders.
1. NGO Forum on ADB
2. Accountability Counsel
3. African Law Foundation (AFRILAW), Nigeria
4. All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM), India
5. All India Women Hawker Federation, India
6. All India Union of Forest Working People, India
7. Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), Monrovia, Liberia
8. Amita Bhide, Professor, TISS Mumbai, India
9. Ashish Ranjan, National Alliance of People’s Movements India
10. Bank Information Center, US
11. Bank Information Center, Europe
12. Bargi Bandh Visthapit Avam Prabhavit Sangh Madhya Pradesh, India
13. BIRSA Jharkhand, India
14. Both ENDS, Netherlands
15. Bretton Woods Project, UK
16. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO) Uganda
17. CEE Bankwatch, Europe
18. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), US
19. Centre for Financial Accountability New Delhi, India
20. Center of Concern, US
21. Chhatisgarh Bachao Andolan, India
22. Christian Aid, UK
23. Chutaka Parmanu Pariyojana Sangharsh Samiti Madhya Pradesh, India
24. Collectif Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie, Cameroon
25. Coordination Office of the Austrian Bishop’s Conference for International Development and Mission, Austria
26. Crude Accountability
27. Environics Trust India
28. Focus on the Global South India
29. Forest Peoples Programme, UK
30. Friends of the Earth US
31. Friends with Environment in Development (FED), Uganda
32. Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, India
33. Globale Verantwortung – Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Entwicklung und Humanitäre Hilfe, Austria
34. Green Advocates International, Monrovia, Liberia
35. Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association, Mumbai, India
36. Himanshu Upadhyaya, Asst. Professor, Azim Premji University, India
37. Inclusive Development International
38. Intercultural Resources, New Delhi India
39. International Accountability Project
40. International Labor Rights Forum
41. Jamaa Resource Initiatives, Kenya
42. Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee Jharkhand, India
43. Karavali Karnataka Janaabhivriddhi Vedike (KKJV) India
44. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, India
45. Mines Minerals and People, India
46. Nadi Ghati Morcha, India
47. National Hawkers Federation, India
48. New Trade Union Initiative, India
49. Observatoire d’Etudes et d’Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et Environnementale (OEARSE) RD. Congo
50. Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Rivers without Boundaries, Mongolia
51. Prafulla Samantara, Lokshakti Abhiyan Odisha, India
52. Public Services International Asia Pacific
53. Re:Common, Italy
54. Samir Mehta, International Rivers, India
55. Sam Pillai, India
56. Soumya Dutta, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha & Beyond Copenhagen Collective, India
57. Srujan Lokhit Samiti Madhya Pradesh, India
58. The Natural Resources Women Platform, Monrovia, Liberia
59. Ulu Foundation, US
60. Urgewald, Germany
61. Working Group on IFIs India
Shri. M.M. Kutty
Executive Director, India
Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank
March 14, 2018
Subject: AIIB’s proposed investment in National Investment and Infrastructure Fund
Dear Shri M.M. Kutty,
We are writing with regard to the AIIB’s proposed investment into India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), which will come before the Board for approval at its next meeting in April 2018.
We want to raise a number of concerns regarding this proposed investment and we ask you to not go ahead with the approval of the Board, considering the potential environmental and social risks it involves.
The NIIF will invest in several high-risk sectors in India, including energy, transport and ports, which have potentially serious impacts on local communities and natural resources. Given this, we are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency around NIIF’s sub-projects and clients, and serious concerns that social and environmental protections will not be applied to projects funded by NIIF.
At present, there is no information available either on the NIIF or the AIIB websites about, which sub-projects or clients will receive NIIF support. This total absence of transparency is not acceptable. How can the AIIB’s Board take a decision to invest in a fund when it does not know where that money will end up and therefore cannot guarantee that those projects will do no harm? Eight months after the Board’s approval of AIIB investment into the India Infrastructure Fund (IIF), there is no information publicly available about the projects supported by that fund, a situation the NIIF threatens to repeat.
It is crucial that the AIIB contractually require its financial intermediary (FI) clients such as NIIF and IIF to disclose publicly all of its investments. Access to information is the basic right of every individual who is being affected by any project. AIIB must also disclose this information on its website. This step would help to ensure that affected communities are aware that the sub-projects must comply with environmental and social standards and can approach, the AIIB, and it’s Board at early stages if those standards are not being met.
Institutions like Asian Development Bank have a policy requiring 120-day public disclosure of draft environmental and social assessments “where the subprojects financed by the FI … through either credit-line, other loans, equity, guarantee, or other financing instruments, have the potential for significant environmental or social impacts.” Despite this policy, the experiences on the ground have shown that these are not followed in letter and spirit. In most cases the public disclosure is not done properly, information is not made available to those being affected in local languages, proper notice period is not provided etc. At present, AIIB does not even have a draft Public Policy on Information nor do Environmental and Social Framework guarantee time-bound disclosure of such crucial information as resettlement actions plans or social and environmental impacts assessments.
Concerns around social and environmental impacts
As the enclosed report documents, there is a high risk of losing control of the outcomes of sub-projects when funding through FIs, threatening to result in harm to communities and natural resources. This risk is especially high in infrastructure projects. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has learnt this lesson the hard way – and has acted to cut its high-risk FI lending significantly in the last year, from 18 to 5 investments. The IFC has also reduced its exposure to harmful sub-projects by turning away from equity investments.
In India, one such FI project that was funded by IFC is GMR Kamalang thermal Power Project in the state of Odisha. The project has been marred by serious human rights violations and environmental and social concerns. With none of the social and environmental policies of IFC applicable to the FI projects, the affected community had no access to information as to whom the funder of the project was and whom to approach. When the fund was traced back to IFC, the community took a chance to approach Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the grievance redressal body of the IFC. An audit done by the CAO confirmed the serious environmental and social concerns. In spite, of IFC having a redressal mechanism in place and their intervention, nothing has changed for the community on the ground who continue to suffer the negative impacts of the project. Like the NIIF fund, the IFC fund also supported equity investments in energy projects and utilities, transport infrastructure, telecommunications, and other infrastructure solely in India. AIIB would do well to take these lessons on Board and limit its exposure to high-risk funds such as IIF and NIIF which also support high-risk infrastructure sectors.
A significant risk associated with the NIIF is its mandate to re-start ‘stalled’ projects. Such projects in India have often stalled for very good reasons: often as a result of local opposition to the high toll threatened to their communities and natural resources. Recent research found that a quarter of stalled projects in India had stalled as a result of conflicts over land. With this as the case, it would be highly irresponsible of AIIB to go ahead with the approval of the fund without knowledge of which sub-projects are being funded and it’s disclosure to the public thereof.
Given the high risk that NIIF will end up financing harmful sub-projects, we recommend that the board does not give its approval to this (NIIF) project. With the risk involved and the fact that no proper policies are in place with regard to the FI investments specifically and with most of the policies of AIIB still in its draft phase; it would be highly irresponsible for AIIB to go ahead with the approval of any FI project.
Additionally, AIIB needs to put in place robust policies and systems around financial intermediary investments to ensure transparency, accountability and efficient channels of communication with all stakeholders. These requirements, in AIIB’s policies, investment, decision-making and contracts with FI clients should be mandatory and include:
- No funds should be disbursed and no loans granted until there is clarity as to which particular project is being supported by the fund and there is public disclosure of that information.
- Until all Environmental and Social and transparency policies are approved after a thorough process of consultation with all stakeholders including CSOs and affected communities, and adequate complaints and accountability mechanism is in place, no further projects should be approved, whether co-financed or through FIs.
- All policies, which are applicable to AIIB financed projects, should also be applicable to FI projects such as NIIF.
- Communities should be informed of the relevant AIIB policies and the availability of complaints and accountability mechanism in a language and manner they can understand and their consent should be sought before a project is approved.
We look forward to your response to these questions and concerns.
Centre for Financial Accountability
- Narmada Bachao Andolan, Madhya Pradesh
- National Alliance of People’s Movements
- All India Union of Forest Working People
- National Hawker Federation
- Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha
- North East People’s Alliance
- Focus on the Global South
- International Rivers South Asia
- Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangh, Madhya Pradesh
- Centre for Financial Accountability, New Delhi
- Chennai Solidarity Group, Chennai
- Chutka Parmanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
- Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai
- Delhi Forum, New Delhi
- Environment Support Group, Bangalore
- Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh
- Indigenous Perspectives, Manipur
- Institute for Democracy and Sustainability, New Delhi
- Intercultural Resources, New Delhi
- Khan Kaneej Aur Adhirkar, Jharkhand
- Machimar Adhikaar Sangharsh Sangathan, Gujarat
- Manipur Cycle Club, Manipur
- Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune
- Matu Jan Sangathan, Uttrakhand
- Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh
- Paryavaran Mitra, Ahmedabad
- Public Finance Public Accountability Collective (PFPAC), New Delhi
- Srijan Lokhit Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
- Teeradesa Mahila Vedi, Kerala
- The Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur
- The Research Collective, New Delhi
By Joe Athialy and Monalisa Barman
For Indian corporations, the grass seems to be getting greener the other side. Investments and acquisitions abroad have been the hallmark of Indian corporations the past decade and a half. While acquisitions of Jaguar Cars and Land Rover & Corus in the UK, Kashagan Oilfields in Kazaksthan, Port Terminals in Australia, Algoma Steel in Canada and Marcellus Shale in the US might have made news, increasing investments of Indian corporations are hardly reported. Even less reported is the role of the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) and their lendings to these corporations.
With 215 lines of credit in place covering over 63 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, which are worth over USD 15.87 billion Indian Exim Bank is a key player in promoting Indian business abroad. Africa seems to have its heart with 34 out of 63 countries for its investments in recent years.
Established in 1982, the growth of Exim Bank has been a phenomenon. From a lending portfolio of Rs. 64,353 crores in 2012-13 it has nearly doubled at Rs. 1,02,641 crores in 2016-17. Major Indian corporations – both public and private – benefited handsomely from Exim bank’s support. They include RITES Ltd, Goa Shipyard Limited, Cosmos International Ltd, Tata Power, Shapoorji and Pallonji Co. Ltd, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Tata Motors Ltd., Suzlon Group, Godrej Group, Bharti Enterprises, Kirloskar Group, Mahindra & Mahindra, Escorts, Apollo, Essar and Jindal.
Impacts of Indian investments abroad, particularly in African countries is well captured in the report India’s Role in the New Global Farmland Grab. Among the many African countries, Ethiopia has been a favourite destination for Indian corporations, particularly the agro-business. According to Oakland Institute, “Indian firms have acquired over 600,000 ha of land. Most investors plan to grow edible oils and crops while a few have plans to grow cotton.” Many of them are financed by Indian Exim bank.
According to an RIS Discussion Paper, “Indian companies have offered investment of over USD 4 billion to Ethiopia. Of this, an estimated USD 2 billion is already on the ground or in the pipeline. There are 608 Indian projects approved by the Ethiopian Investment Commission in Ethiopia. About 48 per cent of the Indian companies are in manufacturing and 21 per cent in agriculture.” Amongst these, Indian Exim bank alone has invested USD 98 million, through 65 companies.
There have been local protests against these land grabs. “Many (in Ethiopia) are describing India as a “neo-coloniser”. The phenomenon has in fact received wide local coverage, with damning headlines like ‘Indian agribusiness devastates W. Ethiopia’” a report in Outlook says. It further mentions, “…a million hectares are being handed over to Indian firms at bargain prices, suppressing local dissent and causing displacement of people.”
The Tendaho Sugar project in Ethiopia is one of the significant investments of India in Ethiopia. Situated in the Afar State in north-eastern Ethiopia, Exim bank invests through the Indian firm Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (OIA). In operation, it will crush more than 619,000 tonnes annually and is expected to cover 50,000 hectares of sugarcane cultivation, according to the RIS Discussion Paper.
Some of the impacts of the project on the local community are documented. There has been a major impact on the pastoral indigenous people of Afar community residing near the Tendaho sugar project. As most of their grazing land is taken for the project there has been a rapid increase of child labour in the locale. Since sugarcane plantation is water intensive cropping, it consumes a lot of water which has created scarcity for the domestic consumption, including for household and livestock. The community says that they were not consulted before taking their lands in the name of development. The Afar community also states that after the Tendaho Project prostitution and thievery has increased which was unknown few years ago in the area. (Socioeconomic Effect of Tendaho Sugar Plantation on the Pastoral Livelihood of the National Regional State, Nov 2016).
In regions where people are critically dependent on natural resources with low and uncertain incomes, customary tenure rules had been the main ways of providing security of land tenure and food security. Both State control of land tenure and private investment, however, have tended to be detrimental to the interests of local people living in marginal lands. (Getachew, 2001)
India cannot shrug off the responsibility just because these violations are happening elsewhere, As noted aptly by Anuradha Mittal of Oakland Institute, “The Indian government and corporations cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government, which is clearly in violation of human rights laws”.
This brings us to the fundamental point of accountability and ethics of Indian Exim bank and Indian corporations while rolling out investments off shore. Most of the corporations investing elsewhere have a bad track-record at home when it comes to upholding human rights and protecting the environment. To assume that they will do those elsewhere is a far distant dream.
Indian Exim bank, which is owned by the government and uses public money, has a lot to answer.
By Tani Alex
For those closely looking at the trajectories of IFIs, especially the current trends of the New Development Bank (NDB) or the BRICS Bank, well, it’s all pancakes and fritters with news of NDB and BRICS Xiamen Summit all around.
The Bank, with 11 projects of over $1.5 billion already in their sack within a span of two years of their establishment, is targeting to lend $2.5-3 billion this year for ‘sustainable infrastructure’ ventures. In the last few weeks, BRICS witnessed saw a host of activities: NDB’s first regional centre opened in Johannesburg, South Africa; the interim sense of political ease happened between India and China on the Dokhlam issue just a few days before the Summit; the bloc again reinforced south-south cooperation by declaring to focus on the projects in Africa and Latin-America; their first project-financed firm commenced operations at Shanghai Lingang Distributed Solar Power Project (100 MW).
Now that the BRICS teammates have officially drawn the curtains at the finale this week at Xiamen, in their perpetual quest to overturn the western economic order, what were their projected takeaways placed side by side with their subtle agendas?
For our ease, let’s start with the first letter in the acronym coined by Jim O’ Neill of Goldman Sachs. Brazil, slouched under the pressure of staggering recovery from recession and joblessness, urged for economic cooperation in global markets.
Russia wanted to sign an intergovernmental agreement for international information security and did not hesitate to mention its initiative to establish an energy research platform for joint energy investment. They were also candidly advocating against global trade protectionism and for an open multilateral trade system.
Back here, India insisted on a medley of items—stronger cooperation in the financial sector and investment in private entrepreneurship to cater to the financial needs of ‘sovereign and corporate’ entities. Tenacious partnership with International Solar Alliance, birthed by both India and France, was also emphasised upon for ‘mutual gains’ through a comprehensive solar energy utilisation (read further exploitation of land resources for solar parks). Further India displayed vanity in having discovered digital economy as the tool for spurring economic growth and to attack corruption through demonetisation. While the World Bank and International Monetary Fund lauded this move, the citizens, independent experts, and local and international media criticised the reckless experiment thrust down to the country. In fact, RBI’s Financial Year report also indicated towards the monumental failure of the senseless decision. Media reports clamour on the resolution of the member nations to together fight corruption with a dedicated Anti-Corruption Working Group. Well, wait, did we hear anti-corruption? Does this also apply to the leaders of these nations as well, or to the higher management of their extolled NDB? We are reminded of Oscar Wilde, who said that the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.
With the newly-begun construction of NDB headquarters in Shanghai last week and the sprouting AIIB with 80 members in its kitty, China, which who chaired this year’s Summit, did not miss time in laying bare its agenda – promoting its star project Belt Road Initiative (BRI), which linked its vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as well. During the Summit, China did not address its differences with India, which boycotted the BRI meeting earlier in May.
Further, China reiterated the idea of ‘BRICS Plus’ to invite more emerging developing economies to expand BRICS. Towards this end, China also invited leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan, and Thailand for dialogues on south-south cooperation and global development. It looks like China is on a high to alter the prevailing financial order and form a new open economic order, while critics point towards China’s discriminatory policies and trade barriers to favour local economy.
South Africa, the chair for next year’s Summit, elated by the opening of NDB’s regional centre, shared a concerted approach against global terrorism, while also listing out its goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 Africa Union. Interestingly NDB’s only project in South Africa, a $180 million renewable energy project with Eskom, was rejected by the Government. When asked about the rejection, NDB’s Vice-President Leslie Maardop explained that the economic slowdown in the country melted the demand for electricity bringing it to a dip and that South Africa did not need new power supplies.
Let’s also quickly glance at other developments of this week, encapsulated here. The idea of BRICS credit ranking agency, which was pushed by India in Goa last year, was discussed again. Further, resilience and the ability of central banks of member nations to foster cooperation between Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and IMF was stressed by India. It is interesting to note here that earlier we were made to believe that CRA is an arrangement competitive to IMF and that it did not require dollar denominated IMF backing?
Another curious development during this Summit was the discussion to develop BRICS’ crypto currency, in line with its earlier agreement on lending in local currencies and settlement mechanisms. One wonders, why did the countries, especially China and India, ignore the foresightedness of their central banks, which recently cautioned against virtual currencies?
In retrospect, every year there are tall claims and forged partnerships under the façade of bilateral and multilateral talks among the BRICS members. However, it seems that no member country has given any deliberate and honest assurances pertaining to the human development—not in the parameters of amassing wealth, expanding economic markets or filling the ‘gap’ in infrastructure development alone, but that kind of an integrated growth which carefully avoids human exploitation, political manipulation, natural and human resource extraction, and devastation of natural environments.
~ 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.