On a Technicality, World Bank Rejects Complaint on Support for New Mining Law

February 18, 2015

A complaint from Haitian communities and supported by New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Accountability Counsel has been rejected by the World Bank on technical grounds. The groups had asked for the Bank’s Inspection Panel to review whether assistance the Bank is providing to the Haitian government follows Bank guidelines relating to transparency and environmental safety.

Since 2013, the World Bank has provided technical assistance to the Haitian government in rewriting its mining laws, leading to a new mining law being drafted in 2014. Though Haiti has not seen large-scale commercial mining for decades, the government awarded multiple concessions in 2012 over opposition protests. In 2013, following a forum on mining sponsored by the World Bank, then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe declared that to advance Haiti’s development, “we are counting heavily on the contribution of the mining sector.”

The Haitian communities’ complaint [PDF] states:

Complainants fear that, due to the government’s weak capacity and the law’s inadequacies, this increased investment in the mining sector will result in serious social and environmental harms, including contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law. Further, Complainants fear that the government of Haiti lacks the capacity to regulate and monitor mining company activity.

In its response, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel says that it “has decided not to register the case.” The Panel acknowledged that the issues raised were “serious and legitimate,” and agreed that the new mining law could “have significant and considerable adverse environmental and social consequences.” However, because the World Bank support was provided through a technical assistance mechanism, “policies and procedures applicable to design, appraisal and implementation of a project, including the safeguard policies, were not applied to the Haiti Mining Dialogue.” The mechanism is not subject to the World Bank’s safeguard policies and therefore the Inspection Panel refused to hear the complaint.

“The Bank should not have discretion to avoid community complaints regarding a project that poses such clear human rights and environmental risks,” said Sarah Singh of Accountability Counsel.

The Inspection Panel seemed to agree, stating that World Bank management’s decision to provide this type of financing “automatically excludes it from the application of the Bank’s policies, even though this decision does not seem to be proportional to the level of environmental and social risks involved in” the technical assistance. The World Bank committed to reform this policy by the next fiscal year, though that may do little to assuage the concerns of those impacted by mining policies in Haiti.

“For the Panel to recognize that our concerns are legitimate and yet refuse to register the case, it is as if the lives of Haitian people do not matter to the World Bank,” said Peterson Derolus, Co-Coordinator of the Justice in Mining Collective.

The role of the World Bank in Haiti’s mining sector, especially in writing the mining law, is complicated by the fact that, through its International Finance Corporation arm, the World Bank is an active investor in Haiti mining operations. Though initialized before the earthquake, in January 2010 the World Bank made a $10.3 million equity investment in a joint-venture mining project in Haiti. 

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