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“It is more Important for the Bank to be Alerted when a Policy is Violated,” Outgoing Compliance Review Mechanism Unit Director, Per Eldar Sovik

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In an interview ahead of his retirement on January 31, 2012,  Compliance Review and Mediation Unit (CRMU) Director, Per Eldar Sovik, emphasized what he believes could be done to improve the work of the mechanism. “All applicable policies for the Bank’s private sector operations should be subject to compliance review…,” he says.

Question: Six years after its establishment, can you briefly take stock of the CRMU activities?

Response: The first year of my assignment as the director of the Compliance review and mediation unit (CRMU) were devoted to setting up the various administrative functions, including planning and outreach events about the Independent Review Mechanism’s (IRM) existence, its mandate, functions and procedures.  Since becoming operational in 2006 the IRM has received seven requests, of which two have been handled through compliance reviews and the others through problem-solving (mediation). We received our first request for a compliance review in 2007 and the IRM experts and I, with the support of other CRMU staff, conducted the first investigation during 2007 and 2008.

Question:  What were the major requests received and outcomes?

Response:  As I said earlier, the IRM has received and registered seven requests which are all equally important though this might not be an impressive number, the last being the Medupi power project. This was delivered to the Boards of Directors this month. Nevertheless, considering that the mechanism is relatively new and few people directly affected by AfDB-financed projects are aware that the Bank has a recourse mechanism, as well as the many efforts in recent years to improve the Bank’s policies and procedures with respect to the implementation of projects, I am satisfied that we have been able to respond to these complaints in a manner that has helped the affected people to find solutions to their pertinent problems, and to help the Bank to pay due diligence to its policies and procedure for future operations.

In 2007, we received a comprehensive complaint related to the Bujagali Hydropower and Transmission projects in Uganda. A number of issues were raised in that request from allegation of inadequate environment and social assessment, hydrological impacts, economic studies, handling of involuntary resettlement and compensation and consultations with affected people, including cultural  and spiritual issues.  To handle the many issues in a comprehensive and systematic way was challenging, especially since at the time many of the Bank’s policies and procedures were not readily available, and we had to undertake a thorough search to find the relevant Bank policies and procedures. This has been improved as most policies are now posted on the Bank’s website and some are being revised and presented in a more systemic and accessible format. I believe, since we made a number of recommendations in that first review report, that RM played a role in initiating this process. You can read all the IRM reports on our website under the sub-link “Requests Register”.

We have also undertaken four major problem solving exercises, the first one for the Gibe III project in Ethiopia and the other ones related to the Nuweiba Power Plant in Egypt, the Marrakech – Agadir Motorway in Morocco and the Dakar – Diamniadio Highway in Senegal. All the four problem solving exercises were challenging, but I believe both CRMU and the operational departments of the Bank involved in these processes learned a great deal. One problem expressed in all these requests were inadequate consultation with the directly affected people and my hope is that through our involvement in the problem solving exercises, we have been able to point out some generic issues that the Bank has to address in its future appraisals and supervisions of projects. As I cannot go into details of the various IRM reports and recommendations, I would like to refer the readers to visit the IRM website  where our compliance review and problem solving reports as well as our annual report are posted.

Question: Now that you are retiring from the Bank, what would you have loved to do differently?

Response:  During my tenure, I have tried my best to commit to that mandate, including maintaining the independence of the mechanism. Independence for a complaint handling mechanism is essential to earn trust from its different stakeholders and interested parties in IRM-led processes. I am grateful to the Bank, its president and the Boards of Directors for having supported me and the IRM in maintaining our independence, including the enhancement of the independence of the IRM in its revised rules. There are always things that could have been done differently and also more efficiently when we look back. However, overall I believe we have been able to carry out the mandate as expected from us in the IRM rules. We also responded to complaints and handled them through the different IRM functions.

Question: What advice would you give to improve the activities of the mechanism?

Response:  When we were revising the IRM rules in 2010 I proposed and had hoped that some of our procedures could have been even more simplified, for instance to let CRMU get involved at an earlier stage by dispensing with the requirement of prior consultations by the requestors with the Bank’s management before we register a request, which has often turned out not to be an easy step given that affected people living in remote areas have limited access to the Bank and the use of modern infrastructure technology. Also, I believe that all applicable policies for the Bank’s private sector operations should be subject to compliance review, and that stakeholders not necessarily directly affected by a project could be eligible to lodge requests for compliance review. As I see it, it is more important for the Bank to be alerted when a problem arises or a policy of the Bank is violated than who actually informed the Bank and the CRMU about the pertinent problem. However, we at CRMU implement the IRM rules as approved by the Boards, but the issues I have mentioned could be considered during the next review of the IRM which is due in mid-2013. 

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