Activists’ Position on New Development Bank, Especially in the Wake of 2nd Annual Meetings Held at New Delhi (31st March – 2nd April). Part 1.

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This is an uncut version and might differ largely from the Declaration which the Civil society Organizations put up. It is also inspired by inputs from the Goa Declaration. So, here goes:

Peoples’ Forum on BRICS is a forum of peoples’ movements, activists, trade unions, national-level networks and CSOs. We intend to win our demands for social, economic and environmental justice. We heard testimonies confirming that the BRICS countries and corporations are reinforcing the dominant neoliberal, extractivist paradigm. Negative trends in the areas of global and local politics, and on issues of economics, environment, development, peace, conflict and aggressive nationalism, or social prejudice based on gender, race, caste, sexual orientation are not being reversed by the BRICS, but instead are often exacerbated. The BRICS speak of offering strong alternatives to the unfair North-dominated regimes of trade, finance, investment and property rights, climate governance, and other multilateral regimes. But on examination, we find these claims unconvincing.The victories we have won already on multiple fronts – such as halting numerous multinational corporations’ exploitation, gaining access to essential state services, occupying land and creating agricultural cooperatives,  and generating more humane values in our societies – give us momentum and optimism.

Our experience with other Multilateral Development Banks in the past have had bitter experiences with their involvement leaving a trail of destruction and irreparable damage involving devastation of the ecologies, forced eviction and displacement, inadequate policies of rehabilitation and resettlement, catalyzing loss of livelihoods and responsible for gross human rights violations. Despite having redress mechanisms, these MDBs have proven to carry forward their neoliberal agenda with scant respect for environment and human rights. Not only have their involvement resulted in the weakening of public institutions on one hand, their have consciously incorporated sharing the goods with private players and furthering their cause under the name of growth-led development, ending extreme poverty and sharing prosperity on the other. Moreover, with Right to Dissemination of Information forming one of the pillars of these MDBs, concerns of transparency and accountability are exacerbated with a dearth of information shared, inadequate public consultations and an absolute lack of Parliamentary Oversight over their involvement in projects and at policy-levels. There are plenty of examples galore with privatizing basic amenities like drinking water and providing electricity that have backfired, but nevertheless continued with. In other words, MDBs have stripped the people of the resources that commons.

The Forum views the emergence of New Development Bank in the context of:

  1. Threat to Democracy with an upsurge of right-wing nationalism, not only in BRICS, but also beyond on the global scale.
  2. As a result of this threat, state repression is on an upswing and aggravated under different norms, growth-led development being one among them.
  3. Widespread ecological destruction, with catastrophic rates of species loss, pollution of land and air, freshwater and ocean degradation, and public health threats rising, to which no BRICS country is immune.
  4. The precarious health of the economy and continuing financial meltdown, reflected in the chaos that several BRICS’ stock and currency markets have been facing, as well as in our countries’ vulnerability to crisis-contagion if major European banks soon fail in a manner similar to the US-catalyzed meltdown in 2008-09.
  5. The longer-term crisis of capitalism is evident in the marked slowdown in international trade and in declining global profit rates, especially evident in the three BRICS countries (South Africa, Russia and Brazil) which have negative or negligible GDP growth.
  6. Addition to commodity crashes, one cause of the economic crisis is the deregulatory, neoliberal philosophy adopted by BRICS governments, which puts corporate property rights above human and environmental rights; in the guise of development.
  7. The new generation of Bilateral Trade and Investment Treaties will potentially have adverse impacts on lives and livelihoods of people across the BRICS and their hinterlands, and need complete rethinking.
  8. The world’s workers are losing rights, farmers are suffering to the point of suicide, and labour casualisation is rampant in all our countries, with the result that BRICS workers are engaged in regular protest, including the strike by 180 million Indian workers which inspired the world on 2 September 2016.
  9. The social front, the threat to our already-inadequate welfare policies is serious, especially in Brazil’s coup regime but also across the BRICS where inadequate social policies are driving people on the margins to destitution.
  10. 10.Patriarchy and sexual violence, racism, communalism, caste discrimination, xenophobia and homophobia run rampant in all the BRICS, and because these forces serve our leaders’ interests, they are not addressing the structural causes, perpetuating divide-and-rule politics, and failing to dissuade ordinary people from contributing to oppression.

New Development Bank calls itself Green. However, the Bank is shrouded under a veil of secrecy. The website of the Bank lacks information about its activities to the extent that more than official records, one has to rely on secondary and tertiary sources of information. Not that such information isn’t forthcoming officially, it is the nature of unproven, untested environmental and social safeguards that is the point of contentious concerns for the communities who might adversely impacted by the projects financed by the Bank in their backyards. Unlike the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which somewhat robust safeguards to be followed and grievance redress mechanisms (not discounting sometimes questionable efficacies though), the NDB is yet to draft any such operational guidelines and redressal. Although speculative at large, such an absence could be well off the mark in meeting established benchmarks. Due to the lack of such mechanisms, communities may face threats of displacement, evictions, ecological destruction, loss of livelihoods, and severe curtailment of basic rights to life. These issues have recurred for decades due to projects funded by other multilateral development banks. Moreover, as a co-financier with other development institutions, the intensity of NDB’s seriousness on the objectives of promoting transparency, accountability and probity stands questioned. Furthermore, the NDB intends to be “fast, flexible and efficient”, without sacrificing quality. The Bank will use various financial instruments to ‘efficiently’ meet the demands of member states and clients. This is where things could get a little murkier, as NDB too has agendas of economic development dominating social and political developments, and the possibilities of statistical number jugglery to establish the supremacy of the ‘gross economic development’ sometimes trampling on human rights and environmental concerns. Consequently, the economic measures taken on many occasions forgo the human capital in a relentless pursuit of development agenda.

NDB could likely put issues concerning the marginalized on the back-burner in its accelerated economic means without justifying the ends. Whatever be the underlying philosophy of development finance, questions of sustainability from both social and ecological perspective should always be decided along with genuinely informed peoples’ participation. This is possible only when the information is transparently disseminated and there are measures for qualifying accountability rather than quantifying it. Furthermore, the NDB seems to have learnt no lessons from other MDBs with not only an absence of safeguards and dependency on country systems, but with all the more reliance on national development financial institutions which are liable to be relaxed in specific cases. The NDB has not engaged with the people directly and its engagement with the CSOs is a farce considering that there is massive absence of communities, marginalized groups, indigenous peoples who are likely to face the brunt of its investments. Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) does not even exist in its dictionary. Adding to the woes is the accelerated pace of investing in projects without the policies being in place.

Everywhere that people’s movements have made alternative demands – such as democracy, peace, poverty eradication, sustainable development, equality, fair trade, climate justice – the elites have co-opted our language and distorted our visions beyond recognition. While we criticize the way world power is created and exercised, the BRICS leaders appear to simply want power sharing and a seat at the high table. For example, the BRICS New Development Bank is working hand-in-glove with the World Bank; the Contingent Reserve Arrangement empowers the International Monetary Fund; and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank serves mainly corporate interests – and all these financial institutions, despite their rhetoric of transformation, are opaque and non-transparent to people in BRICS countries, with no accountability mechanisms or space for meaningful participation by our movements. We have raised constructive critiques of BRICS in our plenaries and workshops. But beyond the analysis, we understand that only people’s power and activism, across borders, can make change. This Forum has found many routes forward for cross-cutting BRICS internationalism on various issues. We intend to win our demands for social, economic and environmental justice. The victories we have won already on multiple fronts – such as halting numerous multinational corporations’ exploitation, gaining access to essential state services, occupying land and creating agricultural cooperatives,  and generating more humane values in our societies – give us momentum and optimism.

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