ADB Rejects Latest Complaint From Poor Railway Families

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) compliance review panel has ruled ineligible a complaint from some of the thousands of poor Cambodian families hurt by its railway project—saying it lacked new evidence—but urged the bank to address their grievances anyway.

Following an earlier complaint from families evicted by an ADB-funded project to rehabilitate the country’s abandoned railway tracks, the panel in early 2014 agreed that the bank made major mistakes that had pushed those families into debt at remote, ill-equipped resettlement sites. The ADB was left to admit that it had breached its own policies intended to protect families affected by its projects and quickly put together a remedial action plan.

In late August, 23 families that have lost all or part of their land to the project but refuse to move to a resettlement site on the outskirts of the city filed a second complaint, claiming the ADB’s new plan had left them out.

On November 16, the compliance review panel (CRP) rejected their complaint on technical grounds.

Because the families provided no new evidence that the bank had not complied with its own policies, the decision said, “the [panel] finds that the current complaint is excluded from compliance review …and accordingly finds it ineligible.”

At the same time, though, the panel agreed that the families in the new complaint, who had either lost pieces of their land or were refusing to move, have been hurt by the project and still deserve to have their living standards restored to what they were before the project began.

But rather than coming up with a new plan, the decision said, “the [panel] believes that the quickest remedy for these grievances lie in them being addressed via the existing [ADB] Board decision and remedial action plan.”

The ADB, the panel added, “should work with the government to establish specific time-bound actions for such remediation, and the CRP will closely monitor and report to the Board on progress and compliance thereon accordingly.”

The decision does not spell out what those actions should be, and the ADB’s country office did not reply to a request for comment.

However, the panel decision does say that some of the 23 families that still have part of their land have yet to be fairly compensated and should be. It also says that families facing eviction but refusing to move to existing resettlement sites “should receive an alternative equitable package of compensation.”

The Phnom Penh families evicted by the project to date have ended up at the Trapaing Anhchanh resettlement site on the city’s outskirts. Short on job opportunities and without sufficient compensation to build new homes, many of them have taken on debt to make ends meet.

The families that have yet to move are asking for bigger payouts and for resettlement options closer to where they currently live.

Nov Sreyda, one of the 23 people who filed the latest complaint, said on Wednesday that she did not know that the panel had deemed their request ineligible.

“If it’s true, the affected families will meet again to submit a new complaint,” she said. “I’m deeply disappointed that this bank won’t improve the [remedial action] plan because this bank is the biggest institution involved in restoring the railway.”

Ms. Sreyda said she had rejected a compensation offer of $1,600 to move out of her home.

“Can the bank and the government leaders figure out how I can build a new house for these pennies in compensation? The other families and I are not asking for tens of thousands of dollars in order to get rich.”

The NGOs Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia helped the families file their complaint.

Inclusive Development managing director David Pred said he welcomed the panel’s statement for noting that the project was still not compliant with ADB policy and calling for “urgent steps” to address the issues the families raised.

“The panel made a smart move by issuing this response to the complaint, which makes it crystal clear what is required of ADB and the Cambodian government, while avoiding another lengthy investigation,” he said.

“If ADB can provide $800 million in development financing to Cambodia over five years, it is surely not too much to ask that the poor who have to give up their homes and jobs to make way for ADB-sponsored projects are properly compensated and resettled.”

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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