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World Bank ‘broke rules’ in Tibet land plan

Financial Times
June 23, 2000

The World Bank repeatedly violated its own rules when assessing the viability of a highly controversial project to resettle 57,750 Chinese farmers on what were traditionally Tibetan lands, according to a scathing independent report. The report, compiled by three development specialists from the Netherlands, Senegal and Canada at the request of the bank’s board of executive directors, concludes that the bank was in violation of seven out of a total of 10 bank regulations when it examined, and decided to back, the controversial project in China’s Qinghai province. Chinese officials say the project will help ease poverty in an area that is a traditional homeland for Tibetan and Mongol herders, but Tibetan exile groups have said it is tantamount to “cultural genocide”. James Wolfensohn, the World Bank’s president, has accepted some of the criticisms and proposed significant changes to the project including the commissioning of a higher-level environmental analysis, the upgrading of social assessments and the provision of better maps and documentation. The bank has persistently expressed support for the project despite opposition from two of its main lenders, the US and Germany. It approved a $40m (œ26.4m) loan for the project last year, but the financing was delayed until the bank’s inspection panel investigated objections to the project from the International Campaign for Tibet, one of the largest pro-Tibetan groups. The bank’s board is set to make a decision on July 6. The panel, which was only authorised to consider whether the project had been developed in line with bank rules, found repeated instances where operational policies and procedures were not followed. It found that population groups which would have to be resettled were not properly consulted, that alternative investment and project alternatives were not considered and compared, and that the project was not properly classified. It also concluded that the bank’s environmental assessments and the standard of maps, charts and references were inadequate and that the bank did not properly comply with its own rules when assessing the impact the project would have on indigenous communities in the area. Furthermore, it found that information was not disclosed in accordance with bank rules. “In the panel’s view, the actual scale of the area to be impacted by the Qinghai project, the ethnic composition of the project’s impacted populations, and the boundaries of the project area were far too narrowly defined by the management. The assessments fail to address many of the most significant social and environmental impacts of minority nationalities,” it says. “This report shows a number of instances where the panel feels that operational policies and procedures were not followed, casting doubt as to whether the project, as it stands, is the best alternative to contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.”

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