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A Case which made World Bank Legally Accountable
On February 27, a year has passed since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 7-1 judgment that World Bank does not enjoy absolute immunity. The judgment shook the foundations of the financial world, which hitherto enjoyed absolute immunity for whatever consequences their lending led to. It’s not business as usual for them anymore.
It empowered the communities around the world, who have always been at the receiving end of lending to big projects – be it big dams, mining, plantations, energy or infrastructure projects. Already two cases – one from Honduras against the private sector arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and another from China against the World Bank – are currently being considered by different courts in the US.
First, a recap of the case, which led to this landmark judgment.
IFC lend $450 million to Tata Mundra (Coastal Gujarat Power Ltd) – a coal-based thermal power project in Kutch, Gujarat in 2007. The fishworkers, who are severely affected by the project construction as well as the effluence from the project, were not even considered as project-affected, let alone any compensation for their loss. Not just the fishworkers, thousands of farmers, salt pan workers and cattle herders were neither considered, nor compensated.
The affected communities, under the aegis of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, approached the accountability mechanism of IFC, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) in 2011. After two years of investigation into the violations of IFC’s policies, CAO confirmed nearly all concerns raised by the people in their complaint, holding IFC responsible for the violations and oversight.
Instead of taking it as an opportunity for course correction, IFC chose to ignore the findings first, when pressure was mounted on them from far and wide, they engaged different agencies to conduct a series of studies, which should have done before the project was approved. The findings of those studies were never made public.
The Government of India allowed CAO to visit the project site only once post the report. Their requests for permission to visit the project to monitor the progress of compliance of the policies where declined time and again. Sab ka saath, Sab ka vikas slogan is preserved for the privileged. Riding on the immunity claim of IFC and a government that loathes any independent assessments of projects or situations like in Kashmir, the company continues to ignore people’s concerns.
Having given the project in a platter by the government in 2006 under the newly planned Ultra Mega Power Projects, this project every sop, until Indonesia, from where the coal was procured, revised their coal tariffs. It took the financial viability of the project for a tailspin. In January this year, the company wrote to the Power Ministry that they could not run the project beyond the end of February because of losses. Earlier this week, they wrote to the states who have a Power Purchasing Agreement with them – Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Maharashtra – that they won’t supply power to them unless the tariffs are revised.
While the company is keen to mitigate the loss by all means, the loss of the people and of many generations, caused because of their project, continued to be meted with indifference and arrogance.
In 2015, the fishworkers and farmers approached the US court – the DC Circuit Court, to hold IFC liable for the livelihood loss their lending caused. IFC claimed immunity from court cases. The Circuit Court and thereafter, the Appeals Court upheld IFC’s claim. Finally, the Supreme Court took it up for an oral hearing and ruled that IFC and its parent body, the World Bank, do not enjoy absolute immunity.
The judgment was meted with disbelief by both sides – obviously for different reasons! Having engaged the best legal batteries to lose the case was beyond IFC’s comprehension. That the Davids can take on the Goliaths even today was a revelation to the communities in Mundra, and around the world.
Having settled the immunity issue, the case in US returned to the DC Circuit Court for hearing on the original petition of IFC’s liability. Again, trying to dodge responsibility for the damages they caused, IFC raised issues of jurisdiction and other legal technicalities. A week before the first anniversary of the immunity case, the Circuit Court ruled in favour of IFC, opening up the road for a long legal battle.
Meanwhile, the condition of the people on the ground went from bad to worse. Because of the effluence, the fish catch went down drastically. Fly ash and coal dust falling on the crops and grazing land made agriculture difficult and animals sick. The intake channel and the continuous dredging of it, expanded the land affected by sea ingress, turning large tracts of agricultural land barren.
A part of what IFC has been paying to its lawyers for defending and covering up their violations would have helped restore people’s livelihood. World Bank Group, a leader amongst the multilateral development banks across the globe, has failed in this case to ensure that people are not left to perish while pushing “prosperity for all”.
Joe Athialy is a social activist based in New Delhi ∞
For Immediate Release
Villagers Celebrate The Historic US Supreme Court’s Verdict Which Ended The Immunity of the IFIs
Symposium on India’s Engagements and Experiences with Accountability Mechanisms of Multilateral Development Banks
The Inspection Panel is completing 25 years in its role, as an accountability mechanism of the World Bank. As you are aware, the Bank’s failure to comply with its operating policies was seen by the entire world in the Bank’s financing with the Sardar Sarovar Dam project on River Narmada. The tenacity of massive grass-roots uprisings from our communities in the 80’s and the sustained hard work of our social movements along with our resoluteness to link it with international coalitions to question the hegemony of the Bank, subsequently led the Bank, for the first time, to commission an independent review of its project. The Independent Review Committee (Morse Committee) constituted by the Bank in 1991 to review the social and environmental costs and benefits of the dam, after years of consistent struggle by Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) and its allies led to a demand from the civil society around the globe for the creation of a grievance redressal system for project-affected communities, which ultimately pressurized the Bank to constitute the Inspection Panel in 1993. We expected this might be a crucial backstop and an opportunity for us to raise our issues of livelihoods, economic loss, displacement from our lands, alienation from natural resources, destruction of environment and threat to our biodiversity and cultural hotspots, where Bank invested in large, supposedly ‘development’ projects like mega dams, energy and other infrastructure projects. Yet, the outcome we expected rarely delivered sufficient remedy for the harm and losses people have experienced over the years.
A number of accountability mechanisms over the next couple of decades in several development finance institutions were formed following the model of World Bank, commonly known as ‘Independent Accountability Mechanisms’[IAMs]. Each year the number of complaints rise which is an indication of the increasing number of grievous projects happening around the world. While IAMs of most MDBs are advertised to provide strong and just processes, many of our experiences imply that the banks are accommodating practices which suit their own needs and their clients, which are borrowing countries and agencies, and not the people for whom the IAMs were built to serve.
Many a time, we have been disappointed by these mechanisms, since these are designed by the banks who are lending for disastrous projects in our lands. And as a result, the already existing narrow mandate of IAMs is further restricted.
In our efforts to hold the lending bank accountable, the communities are always presented with the arduous process of learning the complex formalities and detailed procedures to initially approach the IAMs and get our grievances registered. Our many years’ time and energy then is channelised into seeing through the various cycles of these complaint handling mechanisms, that our entire efforts go into this process, and often our complaint gets dropped off in midst of the procedural rules of the IAMs. People are made to wait many months to clear procedural levels and our cases with the IAMs get highly unpredictable. Further, we face intimidation and reprisals from the state and project agencies for having contacted the IAMs who themselves do not possess any authority to address the violations hurled out to us when we seek dignity, fair treatment and justice from them. There are many of us who feel a loss of morale after long years of struggling with lenders when we fail to see concrete benefits or changes in our circumstances, by which time considerable irreplaceable harm is already done to our lives, environment and livelihoods.
In this manner, our immediate and larger goal of holding banks for their failure to consult with and obtain consent from communities before devising action plans for our lands, water and forests is deflected in the pretext of problem-solving and grievance hearing offered to us in the name of IAMs.
With over 50 registered complaints sent to different IAMS from India in the past 25 years, many more left unregistered due to technical reasons and only a few got investigated, assessed and monitored at different levels, we have a baggage of mixed experiences with the IAMs. A few of the prominent cases from India apart from Narmada project are Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project [WB’s IP], Tata Mega Ultra-01/Mundra and Anjar [IFC’s CAO & ADB’s CRP], India Infrastructure Fund-01/Dhenkanal District [IFC’s CAO], Allain Duhangan Hydro Power Limited-01/Himachal Pradesh [IFC’s CAO] and Mumbai Urban Transport Project (2009) [WB’s IP].
As we now know, what is being witnessed recently is an influx of approved and proposed investments majorly in energy, transport, steel, roads, urban projects, bullet trains, industrial zones/corridors, smart cities, water privatization and other mega projects in India. This has been financed from different multilateral and bilateral sources, foreign corporations, private banks as well as Export-Import Banks (ExIm Banks). It has become a brutal challenge for communities, social movements and CSOs, with lenders and governments constantly shutting their eyes and ears to us who demand accountability for their actions. A compelling and timely need has arisen among diverse groups amongst us to gather together and critically analyze the various trajectories of our engagements with accountability mechanisms of MDBs in order to bring together past 25 years’ learning, insights and reflections of various actors of this accountability process. This urging demand is also an attempt to define the collective experiences in India among our social movements, projected-affected communities and CSOs with IAMs and lending banks, especially appropriating the global political opportunity of Inspection Panel celebrating its 25 years this year.
The schedule and list of speakers will be shared soon.
By Tani Alex
Representatives from civil society organizations from all over the world have written a letter this week to the AIIB, drawing urgent attention to rising concerns of AIIB’s investments through Financial Intermediaries (FIs). This is in context of AIIB developing its strategy to invest more in equity and funds, without formulating robust policies and systems around FI investments regarding transparency, accountability and efficient channels of communication with all stakeholders. FI investments mean a “hands-off” or third-party lending, with which comes potential risks – the clients of FIs are not held accountable for the environmental and social safeguards.
The letter urges AIIB to learn from International Finance Corporation’s (private lending arm of World Bank Group) lessons on FIs from the recent past. The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which is IFC’s accountability mechanism, and various CSOs had submitted their own findings regarding the high risk of lending through FIs. Accordingly, the CAO addressed the highly problematic relationship between IFC and the FIs’ clients, wherein it is not assured whether the FIs’ clients ESMS is leading to the implementation of the Performance Standards (of IFC) at the subproject level. IFC’s CEO has already announced that IFC has cut its high-risk lending from 18 to just 5 investments, and has committed such projects to climate mitigation and women-owned SMEs.
Studies carried out by CSOstracking IFC investments in FIs support these findings. The letter explains that the study examined a small segment IFC’s FI portfolio, wherein more than 130 projects and companies funded by two dozen FIs are causing/likely to cause critical environmental harms and human rights violations. The projects spread over 24 countries come from a range of high-risk sectors which includes private military contracting, mining, infrastructure, energy, industrial agriculture, transport and infrastructure. Few of the demands put forth in the letter to AIIB on policy, investment decision-making and contracts with FIs include: high scrutiny on project portfolio, track record of ESF policy, aligning with AIIB’s own ESF even for sub-projects, monitoring FIs’ clients’ ESF due diligence and ensuring project-affected communities have access to redress including the AIIB’saccountabilitymechanism. Moreover, FIs should also adhere to disclosure of its investments, which should reflect in AIIB’s website. A provision for this should also be included in AIIB’s upcoming Public Information Policy. The letter concludes reminding AIIB of its promise delivered by its VP DJ Pandian to CSOs during the AGM Meet at Jeju in 2017, that AIIB will disclose high-risk sub-projects supported by equity funds.
Among the FIs, AIIB has approved and invested in India is India Infrastructure Fund, targeting investments in infrastructure, energy and transport sectors. This project is partnered with the General Partner and its investment team, a global infrastructure investment and management platform, for a period of eleven years. AIIB has approved 150 mn USD, out of the total project cost of 750 mn USD. Another FI project in the pipeline for India is the National Investment Infrastructure Fund(NIIF), considering to invest in roads, airports, ports, power and urban infrastructure. NIIF is established by the Government of India (GoI) who owns 49% stake. Out of the target project fund of 2.1 bn USD, AIIB is considering to invest 200 mn USD, over an implementation period of 19 years, while GoI invests 1 bn USD.
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.
By Maju Varghese
The Constitution of India has accorded the Parliament the supremacy among the three organs of the Union government viz legislature, executive, and judiciary. Parliament not only makes the laws but also enables the citizens to participate in controlling the government. The Parliament applies various oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in the system. The two mechanisms available in our country are questions and debates on the floor of the house and various committees which scrutinise the public finances and policies.
The budget session of the Parliament was held between January 31 and April 12, 2017. The session had a recess between Feb 10 and March 8, 2017, during which the standing committees examined the demand for grants from various ministries. The session was convened in the context of upcoming assembly elections and also of post demonetisation distress.
This session was important for many reasons. The budget was introduced on February 1 instead of the last working day of February as per the tradition. The government claims that advancing the presentation will result in necessary legislative approval for annual spending plans and tax proposals could be completed before the beginning of the new financial year. According to eminent economist Arun Kumar, early presentation of Budget will help the entire exercise to get over by 31 March, and expenditure, as well as tax proposals, can come into effect right from the beginning of new fiscal, thereby ensuring better implementation.
Besides advancing the date, the government decided from this year to merge Union Budget and Railway Budget. Earlier, Railway budget was presented first followed by the general union budget. Another interesting development this year is doing away with the distinction of the plan and non-planned expenditure in the budget-making monitoring difficult on capital infusion in developmental planning.
The budget session held 29 sittings for 178 hours in total in which 24 bills were introduced, and 23 bills were passed. Members raise 560 starred questions and 6440 un-starred questions during this session.
Some Major debates in the Parliament
The budget session saw the introduction of some major bills and discussions around those. These are: The Finance Bill, 2017; The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017; Bills related to Goods and Service Tax; The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Mental Health Care Bill, 2017; and the Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
Analysis of Questions in Parliament
During the budget session, about 6440 un-starred questions and 560 starred questions were admitted in the parliament. However, the lack of interest in the functioning of the IFIs was evident as just 7 questions asked on the topic in Lok Sabha out of 5203 questions, and 7 in the Rajya Sabha from the total 5064 questions. The break-ups of the questions are given below.
|IFI Name||Lok Sabha||Rajya Sabha|
Rising NPA’s and Parliament
The debate on Non-Performing Assets continued to be debated in the parliament with many parliamentarians raising the issue through questions. There were about 18 questions asked in the Rajya Sabha and 21 questions in Lok Sabha. K.V Thomas, then chairman of the standing committee on public accounts, said that the current non-performing assets stood at 6.8 lakh crore or 6.8 trillion of which 70% are those of big corporate houses. There were debates on the bad bank and how the banks could be cleared of the mounting NPAs. Interestingly, the same bankers who were asking the state to take care of their bad debts came against debts being waived off for farmers who are facing an acute crisis due to a variety of reasons leading to suicide deaths.
New trend of undermining democratic institutions
The Parliament is witnessing a new trend of bypassing Rajya Sabha in important matters including amendment of acts where both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is responsible. The introduction of the Finance Bill first with 10 amendment of acts and later to change 40 different acts including Reserve Bank of India Act as well as the Representation of the People Act was according to opposition first in the history of Parliament itself. This act has robbed the Parliament its right to refer the bill to a standing committee or to scrutinise it clause by clause as to every amendment and the power of Raja Sabha to discuss, propose and incorporate amendment.
The very fact that the finance bill is a money bill gives the option of not incorporating Rajya Sabha view in the bills. All the five amendments passed in the Rajya Sabha was not incorporated into the finance bill, and it was passed as such. Centre has got 22 Money bills passed in Lok Sabha ignoring the Rajya Sabha, and this has kept a bad president for the functioning of the democracy as such.
Executive legislation through Ordinance rather than legislation
The ordinance is an independent legislation brought out by the Executive; it is the wisdom and authority being exercised by the Executive. An Ordinance can only be done in extraordinary situations when the houses are not in session or a critical condition. The Ordinance encroaches the right of the parliament in law making.
The government seems to issues ordinance after ordinance despite the fact that this could be brought before the parliament for legislation in the first instance. According to the PRS Legislative, the government in the last three years has promulgated 27 ordinances, including the ones on land acquisition, demonetisation, payment of wages bill, etc. Many of the ordinances were promulgated multiple times. It is interesting to read the observation of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court observation in Krishna Kumar Vs State of Bihar delivered on January 2, 2017, that promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes. The latest subversion is the Banking Ordinance, on which the finance minister refused to share details of the ordinance before Presidential assent.
While there were interesting debates in the parliament this session, it seems some of the issues are not being captured in the discussions. This includes life and livelihood issues of people who are getting displaced/ affected by development projects, investments of bilateral and multilateral agencies including World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IFC and new development banks like New Development Bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, etc. A point to make in this regard is about New Development Bank, a multilateral Bank initiated by BRICS nations. There seems to be no real engagement of the Parliament in influencing the nature of the Bank given that Mr K. V. Kamat is the chief of the Bank. The Bank is in the process of developing its policies with regards to the environmental and social framework, disclosure policy, etc in their lending.
The other major lack of oversight is on negotiations in the trade policy. India is Negotiating a free trade agreement, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – RCEP  in the Asia Pacific region. According to India FDI Watch, “In the past four years and to this day, no text has been made available to members of the public, parliamentarians, civil society or media,”. The trade negotiations are happening under a veil of secrecy where Parliament and parliamentarians are kept in the dark.
Parliament does not have an institutional space like Standing Committee where trade negotiations, Indian investment abroad and Multilateral and Bilateral investments to India and its effects on Indian policy environment is being discussed. The failure of the Standing Committee to come out with a report on the demonetisation in this session with full facts and figures were a let down on the process particularly when it was announced that it would come out before the end of the budget session.
 The finance bill is for ordinarily introduced to give effect to financial proposals of the Government of India for the following fiscal year and not to make permanent changes in the existing laws unless they are consequential upon or incidental to the taxation proposals.
 RCEP is a 16-nation trade pact that includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, a region that accounts for 46 percent of the world’s population and that produced nearly 30 per cent of global GDP in 2016.