OCRP, OSPF and ADB’s NGO Center (NGOC) hold joint outreach missions on ADB Accountability Mechanism (AM) in Azerbaijan (7-8 September 2010), Georgia (9-10 September 2010) and Armenia (13-14 September 2010). The outreach sessions were attended by government representatives, staff of project executing agencies and implementing agencies, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the civil society. EBRD’s Projects Complaint Mechanism Officer also joined the outreach sessions in Armenia and Georgia and presented EBRD’s Project Complaint Mechanism (PCM). The whole event was arranged jointly by OSPF and NGOC in coordination with ADB staff from the three Resident Missions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
The outreach explained the establishment and development of the AM and the roles, responsibilities and practices of the Special Project Facilitator (SPF) and the Compliance Review Panel (CRP) under the AM’s consultation and compliance review phases respectively. Participants were particularly interested to learn about the specific cases handled by the SPF and the investigations carried out and monitored by the CRP.
The following issues and concerns were raised by participants.
- Although the AM looks into complaints and compliance reviews, it does not seek to impose sanctions against the government nor ADB for problems encountered in project design, processing, or implementation. The AM should be seen as contributing, among other things, to improved effectiveness and project quality.
- As ADB now promotes the use of country systems, many participants in Tbilisi, Georgia and Yerevan, Armenia wanted to know whether ADB-financed projects have to follow government rules or ADB rules.
- Government participants were concerned about the prospect of frivolous claims against development projects. OCRP and OSPF explained that if a claim is judged to be frivolous, it is excluded from the AM. Moreover, the establishment of a grievance redress mechanism at the project level, and as a component of the AM, will mean that problems can be quickly addressed and solved at the outset and stakeholders can avoid the prospect of a small, solvable problem morphing into a major stumbling block for a project.
- Participants were intrigued by the denial of a site visit for the compliance review of Fuzhou Environmental Improvement Project in the People’s Republic of China, and they understood that such action had clearly threatened the integrity of ADB’s AM.
- Some participants, both government and NGO representatives, asked about the possibility of using the loan agreement as a means to redress problems that may arise under a project. Some had even asked specifically whether ADB could be sued in a local court for a breach of the loan documents, and while the answer to this is “No,” it was stressed that the original impetus for accountability mechanisms among international financing institutions in the mid-1990s was the very fact of immunity from suit and, therefore, the perceived lack of accountability.
- In Yerevan, one NGO asked whether ADB repeats any mistakes it may have made. While all institutions, including ADB, make mistakes, the real question is what has been done about those mistakes and whether the institutions learned from them. The AM has been designed to contribute to effectiveness and project quality and, expressly, to ensure that ADB is a learning institution.
- Also in Yerevan, one NGO alleged that some of the persons who might have been affected by a proposed ADB-financed project had not been consulted and this seemed contrary to ADB’s operational policies and procedures. If this were true (and this assertion could not be verified), then such a situation must be first raised with ADB’s operations department implementing the project. The parties may only access the AM after they have made the effort to solve issues at the project level.
- NGOs in Baku, Azerbaijan, raised issues on resettlement compensation (procedures involved and agreement on the level of compensation) as well as ADB’s climate change program. Regarding the latter, they raised the non-compliance issue of the current ADB project in Azerbaijan where no environmental impact assessment was prepared for the second tranche of the multi-financing facility project. The NGOs were advised to discuss this allegation of non-compliance with the ADB operations department in charge of the project in order to rectify the problem prior to employing the AM.
- A government representative from the energy department of Azerbaijan requested that information about bringing a complaint and a request for compliance review should be provided to the affected people during project preparation to ensure that there is mechanism to address any grievance that may arise.
EBRD’s Project Complaint Mechanism
There are two features of the EBRD system that differ from ADB, but which have merit.
- First, unlike ADB’s procedure to access the AM, EBRD complainants do not have to proceed sequentially from problem solving to compliance review. Complainants simply lodge complaints or issues with the independent PCM Officer, under the Chief Compliance Officer, who determines whether the complaint may be subject to problem solving, or the issue reveals a cause for a compliance review, or whether both problem-solving and compliance review are warranted.
EBRD’s approach is quite pragmatic. It is easier to access, removes an initial procedural burden for complainants, and avoids an artificial, procedural link between problem solving and compliance review. These are fundamentally different tasks and there is no compelling reason why consultation should precede a compliance review. Even ADB’s policy recognizes the different objectives and focus but perseveres with the artificial link between problem solving and compliance review.
- Second, anyone can bring an issue to EBRD’s PCM. Unlike ADB’s AM, which requires two affected persons to initiate the process, EBRD permits anybody or any organization (e.g. a CSO) to lodge a complaint or request a compliance review. In ADB’s case, the AM expects that affected persons, who are often poor, and with extremely limited resources and understanding of ADB, will realize that ADB has operational policies and procedures and to appreciate that a violation may trigger a compliance review investigation. This is unrealistic. As ADB values compliance and is willing to be held accountable for being compliant, then anyone should be permitted to request a review.