Where I come from they say that it’s not wise to hide a needle under a blanket. The better the needle is hidden, the higher the chance that someone gets hurt.
The EBRD’s Independent Project Accountability Mechanism (IPAM) informed Bankwatch before Christmas that it found the bank to be in full compliance with its policy regarding the Belgrade Solid Waste public-private partnership (PPP) project. The four page analysis of compliance reads like a superficial attempt by IPAM to cover up the problems with the project at a time when a second complaint has already been submitted to IPAM. Indeed a “needle under a blanket.”
The complaints concern a EUR 70 million loan provided in 2019 by the EBRD to ‘Beo Cista Energija d.o.o Beograd’ for the remediation of the Serbian capital’s old Vinca landfill and the construction of a solid waste incinerator. The International Finance Corporation and the Austrian Development Bank are also financing the project. The EIB was also considering funding before confirming it had pulled out in October 2019, citing the project’s incompatibility with EU waste prevention and recycling targets.
New grievances arise as the first complaint is closed
A month after the first complaint on the project was closed, on January 18, 2021, a second complaint by waste pickers was registered by IPAM. The second complaint was submitted in November, so in fact the mechanism was in discussions with Belgrade human rights lawyers representing several waste pickers at the same time that the compliance review was being closed.
Two years earlier, in December 2018, the families of the waste pickers were evicted from the project site and lost access to Belgrade’s Vinca landfill, their main source of livelihood. During its investigation of the first complaint, experts at the mechanism met a family of waste pickers in Belgrade in December 2019. The family showed these experts the eviction order by the City of Belgrade and reported the inadequate social housing to which they were resettled.
Their new housing was not affordable, they said, especially after their contracts with the Belgrade waste company were terminated and their livelihood from picking recyclables on the Vinca landfill was lost. The rent, electricity and heating bills of the dilapidated apartment were too high, much higher than their insecure income. Moreover, picking of recyclables from the streets of Belgrade has been prohibited, and thus their livelihood criminalised, as the new solid waste PPP project was being set up.
At the time, the accountability mechanism’s experts advised the Roma family to submit a separate complaint and use the mechanism’s problem-solving function. This did not prevent the compliance review from concluding that the EBRD has properly done its job with regards to resettlement and livelihood restoration, although IPAM’s report is not very persuasive:
“Finally the ESAP [Environmental and Social Plan] contains provisions related to the effective implementation of the RAP [Resettlement Action Plan] and appointment of an independent consultant to conduct periodic evaluation of the resettlement process and the effectiveness of the implemented measures to successfully restore the livelihoods of waste pickers.”
Two years after the eviction, IPAM’s compliance report provides no information whatsoever on the monitoring results from the actual implementation of the Resettlement Action Plan and no assurance that the rights of the most vulnerable group of project affected people were respected.
As the new complaint and A11’s letter to the EBRD board detail, there is sufficient evidence that the shelter and the livelihoods of Vinca waste pickers have not been restored. It informs the board that the resettlement was “more akin to forced eviction than any form of sustainable and legally sanctioned process of relocation”.
The A11 letter makes clear that additional action is needed from the EBRD’s client and the City of Belgrade to bring the project into compliance with the EBRD’s policy requirements to “restore or, where possible, improve the livelihoods and standards of living of displaced persons to pre-displacement levels” and to “improve living conditions among physically displaced persons through the provision of adequate housing, including security of tenure at resettlement sites”.
IPAM’s compliance report has not served to adequately warn the bank of these ongoing issues. It remains to be seen if the mechanism can deliver effective remedy to redress the violation of the rights of project affected people through problem solving.
Lost in transition
One potential reason for the sub-standard compliance review on the Belgrade Solid Waste PPP is the on-going reform of the EBRD’s accountability mechanism. In 2020 the EBRD’s former Project Complaint Mechanism (PCM) transitioned to an Independent Project Accountability Mechanism (IPAM). The IPAM appointed a new Managing Director with a direct reporting line to the board of the bank. The structure of the mechanism was changed to provide greater control by IPAM over the handling of complaints, in order to ensure consistent quality, predictability of the process and equal treatment of complainants.
One problem with the PCM was the different approaches of external experts to evidence and to following the terms of reference defined by the mechanism. One could not know what to expect from the external experts, and this lack of predictability was even more annoying to EBRD management than to complainants, as a survey of PCM stakeholders found. The independence of the mechanism was underpinned by the independence of the external experts, so the PCM had little control in ensuring quality and consistency.
As the PCM transitioned to IPAM, the problem persisted. A comparison of two compliance reviews from 2020, those of the Belgrade Solid Waste PPP and the Nenskra hydropower project, shows huge differences in IPAM’s approach to considering good practice in policy implementation. For example, the Nenskra review found non-compliance in the lack of proper assessment of project alternatives. The Belgrade Solid Waste review noted the allegation, but claimed compliance without providing any explanation why.
Most importantly, the two reviews also show very different views regarding good practice in disclosure of information and stakeholder engagement, which underpin the proper implementation of safeguards and the project’s mitigation hierarchy.
Understandably, it takes time for an institution like the EBRD to set up a fully functioning and well resourced IPAM. Building a strong mechanism, which is trusted by stakeholders and project affected people, will not happen overnight.
Meanwhile, controversy around the Belgrade Solid Waste PPP is far from over. We can only hope that the compliance review “needle under a blanket” will not haunt the IPAM and become an obstacle for the restoration of the rights to shelter and livelihoods of Belgrade’s Roma recyclers.
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