This update was co-written with the Accountability Counsel.
In April 2021, the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Office of Evaluations and Oversight (OVE) published the Evaluation of the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (MICI). The evaluation aimed to determine whether MICI, the IDB’s accountability mechanism, was effective and efficient in three areas: (1) the resolution of complaints; (2) the promotion of institutional learning; and (3) internal governance, including MICI’s accessibility, independence, objectivity, impartiality, and transparency. OVE identified several impediments to the effective functioning of MICI, including accessibility barriers, unnecessary limitations on its independence, and a systematic lack of remedy when projects were not in compliance with safeguards. Civil society had hoped a comprehensive review of MICI’s policy would follow the evaluation to enable the IDB Group would holistically address gaps in its current accountability framework. Instead, OVE gave five overarching recommendations for how the Board, the Bank, and MICI could better uphold the IDB’s environmental and social safeguards.
Together, the Accountability Counsel, BIC, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables, submitted joint comments to the IDB. These comments focused on how MICI and the IDB can effectively address the weaknesses the evaluation identifies and make necessary updates to MICI’s policy and practices to solve issues identified in the evaluation. Largely, we believe that the evaluation correctly identified the weaknesses in MICI’s current practice and the related practices of the Board and Management. Particularly, we commend OVE’s recommendation, and the Board’s approval, to repeal the legal exclusion that prevented MICI from considering issues that were under arbitral or judicial review by national or supranational courts.
However, OVE’s other four recommendations, though a step in the right direction, do not comprehensively address the weaknesses the evaluation identified — especially MICI’s inability to provide remedy to communities during its compliance review phase. OVE’s evaluation shows that no compliance cases have led to concrete results for requesters. The evaluation mentions that stakeholders repeatedly told OVE that the compliance review phase serves as a public relations exercise rather than genuinely attempting to resolve the problems that its projects might create for the communities. This is a clear indication of the constraints on the compliance review phase’s ability to address the concerns and problems of the communities and secure access to remedy for those who were harmed by the IDB Group projects. For example, in the La Paz Storm Drainage Case, MICI’s report found noncompliance and harm to the requester but did not put a value on that harm or recommend any remediation measures directed towards addressing this harm. Rather, MICI made several recommendations, which were subsequently adopted by the IDB Board, but none were directly related to remedying the project’s harm and instead focused on improving IDB practices.
Another key issue the report identifies but does not comprehensively address is the Board’s politicization of MICI cases and MICI’s independence. The OVE report states, “ MICI has been subject to decisions by the Board of Executive Directors on issues that have affected its ability to act independently,” (para. 7.6) and subsequently recommends the Board should respect the integrity of MICI’s reports and recommendations “considering them as final, not subject to modification.” While OVE clearly indicates that MICI’s lack of real independence is problematic, this recommendation does not go far enough to remedy this problem.
Our recommendations state where clear policy changes are required to reinforce MICI’s independence and restore communities’ trust in MICI. Our most critical recommendation is that the IDB codify the expectation that MICI includes recommendations for remedying harm and that Management prepares a corrective action plan, which MICI can provide input on and monitor for effectiveness. This will strengthen corrective action and remedy harm caused by noncompliance. Additionally, we urge the IDB to repeal the requirement that complainants first engage with Management and instead give MICI the authority to determine when to undertake an investigation without Board approval. Our submission also lays out several procedural details that MICI should make standard practice to effectively remedy harm to project-affected people. Finally, we advise the IDB to give MICI a sufficient budget to shift away from the consultancy model and create more staff positions to foster institutional memory and increase capacity.
MICI plays a crucial role within the IDB, providing a channel for project-affected people, the purported beneficiaries of the IDB’s work, to raise grievances about projects and seek redress. However, as OVE’s evaluation makes clear, there are gaps in MICI’s policy and practices that hinder the mechanism’s effectiveness. The IDB must act to address these issues in full to enhance MICI’s legitimacy and its ability to provide effective remedy.
Read our full recommendations here.