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Interview with Richard Bissell, member of AfDB Independent Review Mechanism Roster of Experts
The Boards of Directors on 23 June 2010 appointed Dr. Richard Bissell, the Bank’s new member of the Roster of Experts for the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). The Bank’s communication team recently met with Dr. Bissell, who accepted to share perspectives on the institution’s IRM. “I think the Bank will be proud of IRM’s impact on development, and especially in providing for broad sharing of the benefits of economic growth with due respect for social and environmental issues,” he said.
Question: From your point of view, as a new member of the Roster of Experts, what is the Independent Review mechanism’s (IRM) contribution to the Bank’s development effectiveness?
Response: The IRM has a major opportunity to contribute to the effectiveness of the operations of the Bank. The Bank has many missions, and the need to continually improve its practices and quality of its portfolio means that the challenges constantly grow. The President and the Board have made it clear that the GCI will result in a larger lending program with a significant proportion of infrastructure. Any Bank with that opportunity would want to make those projects high quality, and the IRM can contribute to those ambitious goals by providing another avenue of appeal for those on the ground with an awareness of the reality in which those projects will be built.
Question: What is the difference between the AfDB IRM and that of other Sister institutions?
Response: There are aspects of the IRM that are the same, and some aspects that are different. Every mechanism is uniquely formulated to meet the needs of the people in the countries where projects are carried out. For instance, both the IRM and the mechanism at the Asian Development Bank provide for follow-up monitoring of the Board decisions after an investigation in order to assure the local people that their concerns will be met, but the mechanism at the World Bank does not provide for that. On the other hand, all mechanisms are designed to respond to the concerns of local beneficiaries over the impact of a bank-financed project, and to undertake a fact-finding mission to either resolve the situation through mediation and/or through a review of bank compliance with policies of the institution.
Question: From your experience with other independent review mechanisms over the years, have you seen any improvement in the way that the multilateral development Banks handle environmental and social safeguards?
Response: I have worked for nearly twenty years with such mechanisms at the World Bank and with the regional banks in Asia and Europe, and I find that there has been enormous improvement. Change has occurred at three levels – the quality of the safeguard policies themselves has gone up, with banks learning the best design for policies from each other. Secondly, the banks have instituted internal procedures for improved quality at entry of Board decision; the tools available for such analysis are much better today than a decade ago. Thirdly, there is much broader acceptance of independent review in various forms stimulated by public involvement in consultative and complaint processes. The IRM has contributed to that last development – the democratization of development.
Question: As you look to the future of the IRM, what are the prospects for the AfDB?
Response: I see it continuing to contribute to the need for improved effectiveness of the Bank, especially with the confidence expressed in the institution through the last GCI. The diversity of approaches to development, including the expansion of private sector activities, will be matched by the IRM to ensure its relevance to the need for rapid expansion of the Bank’s portfolio. And as the use of country systems grows among the Bank’s borrowers, I see a growth in the capacity at the national level to deal with the kinds of issues that are currently handled by the CMRU and the IRM. I think the Bank will be proud of its impact on development overall, and especially in providing for broad sharing of the benefits of economic growth with due respect for social and environmental issues.