AfDB re-tools its Independent Review Mechanism

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has taken a major step in its efforts to improve the way it does business by strengthening the institution’s Independent Review Mechanism (IRM), to ensure that people benefit fully from projects and programmes financed by the institution.

The Bank Group’s Board on Wednesday, 16 June 2010 in Tunis approved a revised version of the Operating Rules and Procedures of the IRM which has been operational since 2006.

The IRM is designed to provide people adversely affected by a project financed by the Bank Group with an independent mechanism through which they can request the Bank Group to comply with its own policies and procedures.

The salient recommendations adopted by the Boards this week aim at improving people’s access to the Mechanism and strengthening its independence from Bank Group management and operations.

For instance, under the enhanced independence of the IRM, the Boards will have more leverage in the appointment of the Director of the Compliance Review and Mediation Unit (CRMU), who administers the IRM and is responsible for its problem-solving function.

The new rules also exclude the Director from being part of compliance review investigation panels and decisions on whether or not the Bank is complying with its operating policies to avoid conflict of interest, especially where cases that have been handled through a problem-solving exercise by the Director are referred to compliance review at a later stage.

The amendments will facilitate access and use of the IRM by people and communities affected by the Bank’s operations, through the official integration of outreach activities as one of the most important functions of the CRMU.

Furthermore, the Bank’s management will be obliged to include information about the IRM in Bank policies and project documents such as the appraisals and environment and social impact assessments. Another key change is the approval of the flexible interpretation of the IRM rules such that people who would like to submit a complaint will no longer be constrained by the formats and the means of submitting their complaints to CRMU.

The CRMU Director, Per Eldar Sovik, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the IRM review, in particular, the strengthening of the independence of the IRM and the director’s position, as well as the clear division of the roles and responsibilities among the director and the expert members of the compliance review panels. He underscored the important role that the IRM can play in enhancing the development effectiveness of the Bank’s operations, and said “these days I often hear that Bank staff saying that they have to ensure that the projects are IRM proof”, which is a good sign that the mechanism already has some positive impact on how the Bank is conducting its business.

He said that over 400 civil society organizations from more than 30 African countries had attended sensitization workshops organized by the CRMU. “I can confidently say that the IRM is becoming more visible in the regional member countries of the Bank,” he added.

Mr. Sovik also emphasized the need to support African NGOs, especially in the domain of environment and social impact assessments as well as helping them to learn more about and to understand the Bank’s environmental and social safeguards policies. “Africa needs a strong civil society to safeguard the environment and to help in ensuring that the projects’ benefits reach out to all the intended communities,” he emphasized.

The Mechanism has over the past three years handled complaints regarding projects such as the Bujagali Hydropower and Interconnection projects in Uganda, the Gibe III project in Ethiopia and the Nuweiba Power plant in Egypt.