World Bank acts on abuse claims in Tanzania park project
The World Bank has given Tanzanian authorities until late December to settle complaints of civil rights violations tied to a $150 million natural resources project that the bank is funding before it launches a formal investigation into the matter.
The Bank’s board on November 15 gave the green light for the probe into the Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (Regrow Project in Southern Tanzania to go ahead on the basis of a request filed by two unnamed Tanzanian nationals.
It gave the Tanzania government 30 business days, ending December 27, to accept an option for dispute resolution with the complainants offered by the Bank via its Accountability Mechanism department before going further.
Tanzania’s Finance Minister Mwigulu Nchemba said that the government was taking it seriously.
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“We have already notified the Bank of our intention to take up the dispute resolution option and we are in the process of putting together a team to meet with the complaining parties and work things out,” Mr Nchemba told The EastAfrican on the sidelines of the World Bank’s International Development Association mid-term review meeting in Zanzibar this week.
The seven-year Regrow project, which is scheduled to wind up in February 2025, is aimed at supporting government efforts to develop four national parks in Southern Tanzania through financing improvements in infrastructure and management systems and offering alternative livelihoods for surrounding communities.
The Bank’s intervention follows its direct implication in the complaints of alleged violence and intimidation being used by park rangers in the employ of the state-run Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa to forcibly evict residents from the project area. It said the formal request for investigation was submitted on June 20 this year by “two individuals from Tanzania who also requested their identities to remain confidential for fear of retaliation.”
According to the complainants, at least five village communities next to Ruaha National Park, which is part of the project, have been subjected to two years of constant persecution by Tanapa rangers, including cattle seizures that impacted their pastoralist livelihoods.
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They also accused Tanapa rangers of involvement in “extrajudicial killings” and the “disappearance” of locals.
The incidents are alleged to have “created a sense of constant fear” within the cited communities while the Bank as project sponsor has “failed to trigger its own policies and procedures for resettlement of indigenous people in project areas” as a prevention measure.
The complainants have named US-based think tank The Oakland Institute, which submitted a report in September.
denouncing the World Bank’s role in the alleged project improprieties, as their chief advisor in the inspection process. The World Bank Board’s endorsement of a full investigation was on the recommendation of an inspection panel that visited Tanzania in August to assess eligibility of the original request.
During its visit to Tanzania from August 21 to September 2, the panel team met with project stakeholders including government officials, representatives of the implementation agencies, the complainants and local communities.
In its September 19 report to the Board, it said a further investigation was warranted into “whether risks to communities were identified in initial project preparation documents and appropriate mitigation measures put in place.”
The inquiry will also include a due diligence review of Tanapa as one of the project’s lead implementing agencies and how the Bank itself has been supervising Tanapa’s handling of the project.
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However, the panel also said it had determined that the request met all the technical eligibility criteria “with the exception of the claims relating to the application of the (Bank’s Indigenous Peoples Policy and to involuntary resettlement.”
“The panel notes that if resettlement is triggered in the project area within the life of the project, the requesters retain their right to submit a new request for inspection if they believe they are experiencing or likely to experience harm due to non-compliance with Bank policies,” it stated in its official case filing document.
The investigation will focus on related, possible non-compliance with the applicable World Bank policies, focusing on the Bank’s Policy on Environmental Assessment and the Bank’s Investment Project Financing policy.
“This investigation pertains to the Bank’s actions and omissions and would not consider other parties mentioned in the Request for Inspection,” the panel said.
“When informed of these violations of its own safeguards, the World Bank deflected blame and failed to take responsibility and action,” it added.