Conflict Resolution and the GEF

Even carefully designed projects can face unexpected challenges that create tension and leave some of the parties unsatisfied or some project objectives unfulfilled. Problems and complaints may relate to potential non-compliance with GEF policies, perception of wrongdoing or mismanagement, or other concerns. 

GEF Governance Structure – Agency responsibility for Projects and Programs

The GEF takes all concerns seriously, irrespective of the cause. Under the GEF governance structure, GEF Partner agencies are responsible for implementing GEF-funded projects and programs, and for responding to complaints and concerns that arise during project preparation and implementation. In addition, the GEF has adopted policies that need to be respected in these projects and programs, including on Environmental and Social Safeguards, Fiduciary Standards, Gender Equality, Stakeholder Engagement, Indigenous Peoples, Project Operations and other topics. See GEF Policies and Guidelines.

GEF Policy further requires that each GEF Agency have in place a Grievance and Accountability System to respond to complaints from project-affected people and communities, including on potential policy non-compliance. These mechanisms have the authority to review and investigate complaints, independently of the management and staff involved in project design and implementation. They also provide other avenues to resolve disputes, such as through dialogue and mediation. Information on these mechanisms, and how to submit a complaint relating to GEF-funded projects, is here: Agency Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution and Accountability.

GEF Secretariat Conflict Resolution Function

GEF Policy also establishes the position of GEF Conflict Resolution Commissioner in the GEF Secretariat. The Commissioner plays a facilitation role, and reports directly to the GEF CEO.  Through the Commissioner, GEF Agencies report to GEF Council on grievance cases which Agencies have determined to be within the scope of their review, as well as on new developments in these cases. 

Submitting a Complaint

A person concerned about a GEF-financed project or operation may submit a complaint to a local or country-level dispute resolution system, a GEF Partner Agency or the GEF Resolution Commissioner at the address indicated on this page. Complaints submitted to Agency Grievance and Accountability Mechanisms directly should follow the guidelines for the relevant Agency mechanism, at the link noted above.

Complaints submitted to the Commissioner should be in writing and can be in any language. The complaints should provide at least a general description of the nature of the concerns, the type of harm that may result, and (where relevant) the GEF-funded projects or program at issue.

Steps followed by the Commissioner

When a complaint is submitted to the Commissioner, the Commissioner will confirm receipt promptly and be in touch with the complainant to seek any needed clarifications, review possible next steps, and answer any questions about the conflict resolution function. For complaints relating to GEF-funded projects and programs, the Commissioner will inform the complainant of the availability of the Grievance and Accountability mechanism of the project implementing agency.  The Commissioner will forward the complaint to the Agency Grievance and Accountability mechanism and, as appropriate, the Agency management. The Commissioner will also inform the complainant(s) that they have the option to submit a complaint to the mechanism directly, and ask whether there is any concern regarding the confidentiality of the complaint. The Commissioner will at all times respect requests for confidentiality and anonymity by persons submitting complaints.

For non-project related complaints determined to be within the scope of the CRC function, steps may include facilitation of dialogue to resolve the issues, seeking appropriate responsive action by the responsible parties, conciliation or in some cases mediation and independent fact-finding. The Commissioner will keep the involved persons and parties informed of status and progress in resolving the conflict, in keeping with the conflict resolution mandate.

Purposes and Outcomes

Key features of this approach are to facilitate dialogue and positive solutions among stakeholders, enhance transparency and accountability, improve project effectiveness and results, and develop lessons to improve future operations. The GEF undertakes a systematic effort to raise awareness about the conflict resolution system through the Country Support Programme and other suitable venues. 

The elements of the GEF conflict resolution system noted above are set out in the GEF Agency Minimum Environmental and Social Safeguard Standards Policy (see Minimum Standard 2, Grievance and Accountability Mechanism and section on Conflict Resolution Commissioner); and the GEF Partner Agency Minimum Fiduciary Standards (see Investigation section).

Other Avenues of Recourse – Integrity and Conflict of Interest

In addition to the above, the staff rules of the World Bank on matters of ethics, integrity, fraud and corruption apply to staff of the GEF Secretariat, while the GEF’s Policy on Ethics and Conflict of Interest for Council Members, Alternates, and Advisers applies for these individuals.  Any concerns on these matters may be raised through the World Bank hotline.

Complaints and Concerns brought to the GEF Conflict Resolution Commissioner

Below are case summaries of complaints involving GEF-funded projects which an Agency Grievance and Accountability mechanism has determined to be within the scope of its review.  The list includes cases submitted within the previous 18 months and earlier cases still open and under review. Information on other cases may be obtained by contacting the CRC directly at the contact information noted above.

The CRC received a complaint on March 31, 2019 from the Environmental Conservation and Protection Organization (EPCO), a non-governmental organization in the Republic of Mauritius. The complaint alleges, inter alia, malpractices by an official in the GEF UNDP SGP Coordination Office in Mauritius, resulting in unfair treatment of proposals for funding from EPCO. The complaint also alleges instances of conflict of interest and favoritism. Following correspondence with the complainant, the CRC conveyed the complaint and concerns to UNDP management for review and appropriate action and response. The CRC also informed the complainant that they have the additional option to submit their complaint to the independent accountability and grievance mechanisms at UNDP as they consider appropriate. The UNDP management referred the complaint to the UNOPS Internal Audit and Investigation Group, which is reviewing the matter and carrying out an assessment and audit.

The CRC received a complaint document in March 2019 from Aret Kokin Nu Laplaz (AKNL) civil society coalition in the Republic of Mauritius. The complaint alleges that authorizations being granted to developers are destroying the last environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs) in the country. It further alleges, inter alia, that the GEF-funded project Mainstreaming Biodiversity into the Management of the Coastal Zone in the Republic of Mauritius, implemented by UNDP, is tantamount to greenwashing and will be a total waste of money if the government does not freeze all current EIO licenses and building permits for major developments on the coast. The CRC conveyed the complaint and concerns to UNDP management, and facilitated contact between the complainants and the UNDP Grievance and Accountability System for further review and action.

Subsequently, the complainant formally submitted their complaint to both parts of the UNDP accountability and grievance mechanism, the Social and Environmental Compliance Unit (SECU) and the Conflict Resolution Mechanism (CRM). UNDP notified the CRC that on June 10, 2019, SECU determined the complaint to be Eligible for a SECU Compliance Review. A field investigation was conducted in August 2019.  A link to the SECU eligibility determination and related information is here. The parties will keep the CRC posted on further development and actions.

The CRC received an initial communication and complaint on this matter in August 2018 from Survival International on behalf of Baka communities in Congo and Cameroon. The complainants expressed serious concern about negative impacts and violation of rights of the affected indigenous communities alleged to result from activities supported by the projects, including eviction from their lands and absence of prior informed consent for project activities that affect them. The complainants also indicated that they had engaged in previous discussions and contacts on these matters with the Agency implementing the project, UNDP.

The CRC informed the complainants of the GEF system in place to respond to these matters, including information and contacts at the accountability and grievance mechanism of UNDP. The complainants formally submitted their complaints to the UNDP mechanism, which were registered on August 10, 2018. The mechanism confirmed this to the CRC, and is following its required procedures in reviewing and acting upon this complaint. The two cases have completed investigation in the field. The Agency will keep the CRC updated on status.

The CRC received an initial communication on this matter in July from a coalition of civil society organizations working with indigenous communities with the aim to protect forests and biodiversity along with the rights of indigenous peoples. The coalition expressed serious concern about the potential impacts of the project on the lives of the affected indigenous communities and indicated that they wanted to submit a formal complaint. The coalition also had been in contact with the Agency implementing the project.

The CRC informed the complainant of the GEF system in place to respond to these matters and facilitated further follow-up direct contacts with the implementing agency and its accountability and grievance mechanism. The complainant subsequently informed the CRC on September 20, 2018, that they had decided, following additional internal consultations, to lodge a formal complaint with the accountability and grievance mechanism at the implementing agency, UNDP. The UNDP mechanism confirmed receipt of this complaint to the CRC..

In December 2018, the Agency mechanism informed the CRC that it  determined that the case is eligible for compliance review. In addition, the mechanism informed the CRC that the project has been suspended owing to an absence of trust between the project management and the indigenous people, as further indicated in documentation relevant to its review process. A field investigation has been conducted and the compliance review is in its evidence gathering/fieldwork phase. The Agency will continue to keep the CRC updated on status.

The CRC received a complaint from a person who indicated a suspicion of impropriety or possible corruption in a call for bids from an NGO to provide scientific research support to a GEF-supported project on biodiversity and landscape protection in Madagascar.  The person alleged that a call for bids had been made with a promise to post the Terms of Reference on a specific website, but the posting did not occur and the deadline was very near.  The facts and situation led to a suspicion that fair procedures were not being followed. 

With the agreement of the complainant, who requested anonymity, the CRC contacted the GEF implementing agency for the project to inform them of the concerns and alleged facts, and to request that they examine the situation and determine appropriate responsive action.  The Agency took immediate action to investigate, in contact with the local office and responsible staff, and reported back to the CRC promptly.  The Agency reported several points:  that there was no evidence of malpractice or corruption by the NGO involved; that the ToRs in question were available on the indicated website since 10th February, but were not easy to find on the website (with details about actual location); and that to rectify the situation, the NGO agreed to move the ToRs to a more obvious location on their web site and to publicize them more effectively. The step was done to enable candidates to find the relevant information and submit their applications more easily. In addition, the deadline for the tenders was extended by one week to enable more candidates to apply.  The Agency also provided a contact point for the complainant in case of a wish to seek further information.

The CRC promptly reported back to the complainant on these findings and the actions taken to address the concerns and resolve the issues in the complaint, within a time frame to enable participation in the process.

The CRC received a complaint from a person who questioned his removal, on the basis of an alleged conflict of interest, from scientific work in support of a GEF-supported project on mercury contamination. The person also expressed concern about the subsequent continued use under the project of related intellectual property, and the rationale for disengagement of the project with another partner.  The matter related to Phase 2 of a GEF-supported project on mercury contamination in Africa under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The CRC contacted the sponsoring organization on behalf of the complainant to understand the issues and to facilitate dialogue between the parties.  Following this, a series of phone calls and in-person meetings were arranged to better understand the issues and seek resolution; these helped address some apparent misunderstandings, and successfully resolved the matters to the satisfaction of all concerned - - leading as well to the re-engagement of the other partner.  The matter is now completed-closed.

An individual submitted a complaint about a selection process for a local coordinator in a GEF funded project on land degradation in Western Mongolia. CRC forwarded the complaint to the IA which is following up with the complainant and relevant parties at the country level.

An organization submitted a complaint to the CRC alleging misuse of training funds in the GEF supported project on coastal zone restoration and management in Sri Lanka.  CRC forwarded the complaint to the project implementing agency, noting the importance of ensuring that complaining parties were made aware of available grievance redress systems within the Agencies.  In January 2017 the IA informed that the matter had been referred and submitted to the agency’s independent complaints mechanism, which reviewed the allegations and found “. . . that there appear to be no indication of misuse of funds and a full investigation . . . is not warranted, apart from programmatic follow-up.”

An individual submitted a complaint to the CRC alleging favoritism in a procurement process in the GEF-supported project on environmentally sound disposal of PCBs in Russia.  The CRC had several follow-up correspondences, including with the implementing agency.  Based on these discussions, the CRC referred the individual to the independent grievance mechanism at the implementing agency, which he contacted directly in November.  In July 2017 the grievance panel completed its review and found that: (i) there is insufficient basis to conclude that the Terms of Reference were tailored to favor companies from the country in which the project is located; and (ii) the specifications in the TOR were technically sound.

Some members of the GEF CSO Network submitted concerns and complaints to the CRC alleging a possible misuse of funds and corruption within the CSO Network.  These included concerns about high costs for the Network website and other more generally stated allegations.  The CRC consulted with legal counsel and referred the complaint to the World Bank Office of Institutional Integrity (INT) which has authority to review and investigate claims relating to fraud and corruption within its jurisdiction.  The GEF also notified the GEF Council of the claims and of steps being taken to review them.

Subsequently, INT informed the CRC that it lacked jurisdiction, but recommended an independent entity-auditor to carry out a review. In late 2016, the entity-auditor (commissioned by the CRC) reviewed the claims through interviews of involved parties and review of relevant documentation.  The review found:  (1) there is no evidence to support the allegations of fraudulent misuse of funds or corruption within the Network; (2) based on the relevant information, it is not merited to carry out a further investigation into this issue; (3) there are issues of clarity relating to budgeting and related decision-making in the Network, and imbalances in quality/quantity of documentation; and (4) a specific complaint about a reallocation of budget resources was justified; the manner in which the decision was taken and communicated was unsatisfactory.

An individual working in the government raised concerns to the CRC about the source of funding for the project coordinator for the GEF-supported project to protect and secure watershed services in Tanzania. Following internal review, the CRC referred this claim to the implementing agency which carried out a full review of the claims and concerns.  The review concluded that no rules or procedures had been breached, and that no GEF project funds were used to pay or augment the pay of an official who had taken up the role of project coordinator. The IA also committed to implementing the necessary oversight mechanisms for achievement of project objectives.

An individual submitted a complaint to the CRC alleging that he had improperly not been selected or included to assist in executing a project to reduce and eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in Pakistan. The CRC had several follow-up correspondences, including with the implementing agency, which informed the individual of the independent complaints mechanism available at that Agency. The individual was also in litigation with government on this issue. By December 2016 the CRC was informed that the claim was considered by the Ombudsman in the Federal Government and resolved.

A beekeeper and member of a beekeeper association in Barbados contacted the Conflict Resolution Commissioner (CRC) to express several concerns with a GEF-funded SGP Beekeeping project to support honey production and beekeeping.  The concerns included: that the project covered too much territory and did not take into consideration the type of bees prevalent in the local area; the number of beekeepers to be incorporated and the gender aspects of the project were unrealistic; and budgeting was not sufficiently going to core priorities, especially actual beekeeping.  The CRC in a facilitating role conveyed the concerns to SGP and to local staff responsible for the project, and put them in touch directly with the affected party expressing the concerns. 

A fact-finding review indicated that concerns relating to focusing on core priorities had validity, and agreed to: reduce the number of demonstration sites to five to reduce costs; and find other savings to enable more support directly to benefit beekeepers.  The review found that the approach to gender equality under the project appeared to be realistic and seeks to correct a traditional gender imbalance, and that the type of bees found in Barbados was not relevant to the project.  These findings were discussed with stakeholders and the project authorities, and there was a renewed commitment to ensure that all the stakeholders were appropriately engaged in further project development. In this context, a revised project document was developed to address key concerns and further discussions were carried out to allow the project to proceed with the support of all stakeholders involved.

Certain members of the GEF Civil Society Organization (CSO) Network complained to the GEF CRC that term limit rules were not being respected in a particular case.  This was a renewed complaint from the previous year, following an initiative by the GEF Conflict Resolution Commissioner to facilitate a solution that was ultimately not successful.  In 2015 and into 2016, the GEF Conflict Resolution Commissioner again offered to facilitate a solution with the scope of the CRC role, while respecting the independent functioning of the Network and its internal rules for dispute resolution.  The CRC also helped put the complainants in touch with the GEF legal counsel at the World Bank and the GEF Independent Evaluation Office, which was set to conduct an evaluation of the CSO Network.

In 2016, the CSO Network restructured and reorganized itself seeking in part to address internal concerns, and taking into account also the independent evaluation of the Network by the GEF’s Independent Evaluation Office. Due in part to this initiative the situation relating to the particular case changed, and the issue was resolved. The complaining parties continued to express concerns about aspects of the Network’s governance.

A concerned member of civil society in Brazil expressed concerns about lack of adequate CSO consultation and engagement in a project in Brazil on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  The issues were raised at public meetings on Environmental Rule of Law in the Americas in Jamaica, Spring 2015.  During and after these meetings, the GEF CRC facilitated contacts between the affected party and the responsible implementing agency, and efforts were made to respond to these concerns and assure meaningful consultations going forward.  The discussions also facilitated further dialogue between the CSO and the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on POPs relating to initiatives in Brazil under the Convention, including the National Implementation Plan.

A concerned citizen (and member of the judiciary) in Guyana expressed similar concerns to those noted above about lack of adequate CSO consultation in the development of a GEF supported project in St. Lucia.  The GEF CRC reviewed the elements of public involvement and consultations under GEF Policy and provided contact and additional information for follow-up to address the concerns and bring greater awareness to the issues and the need to assure meaningful consultations going forward.

The CRC received information alleging that a Regional Focal Point (RFP) member of the GEF CSO Network had used his position for personal gain, specifically by: (i) arranging for migrant workers to act as the representatives of member NGOs to solicit invitations to the USA for visa application purpose; (ii) nominating a migrant worker to be a funded participant to the 45th GEF Assembly who they knew did not fit relevant participant selection criteria; and (iii) receiving payment for such services.  The CSO Network requested the RFP to submit an immediate response to these allegations and initiated an investigation.  The GEF Secretariat informed the Network that they suspended further processing of the travel arrangements of the RFP pending the outcome of the investigation, and would not issue any further invitation letters to any self-funded participants recommended by the RFP.   The person and his institution subsequently were expelled from the CSO Network.

A concerned civil society organization submitted a complaint alleging inappropriate management of a GEF-supported project on integrating climate change into managing priority health risks in Ghana.  The complaint alleged that the problems in management resulted in omissions and misunderstandings in carrying out the project, including how pilot projects were developed and which communities were intended to be the beneficiaries. The implementing agency investigated the matter and committed to raise any material concerns formally with their independent complaints office.

A concerned individual submitted a complaint relating to the administration of the SGP project on coastal communities and marine conservation in Malaysia.  The submission alleged that the project management authorities had discouraged a grantee of the project from completing the project before the expiration of the project extension in June 2011, contrary to earlier commitments and to the best interests of the affected community. Following additional correspondence, the CRC referred the matter to SGP for direct follow-up. They subsequently contacted the concerned individual through their regional focal point to address and resolve the matter.

A civil society organization in Syria raised concerns about the selection of a replacement of an RFP in the CSO Network.  The GEF Secretariat noted that it did not have authority to engage in the selection process, and the matter was referred to the CSO Network management which resolved the issue.  The election was found to have been done according to the rules and the result was confirmed.

A member of the GEF CSO Network expressed concerns about not having received certain types of reports and information from the GEF, as would normally be sent to members of the Network. An inquiry was made and the relevant information was re-sent to the Network member.

The CRC and the GEF Secretariat also received other inquiries and questions in 2011 about participation and selection of members in the GEF CSO Network.  In general, these were referred to the Network for resolution. Further details are on file with the GEF CRC.

An individual submitted a letter expressing concern that the GEF had not been informed about clearing of forests in South Africa and severe negative impacts on affected wildlife. The information was forwarded to the implementing agency, which determined that ongoing programs did not involve any clearing of native forests nor contravene any safeguard policies. The issues were also conveyed to the GEF Operational Focal Point in South Africa, for continued attention.

An individual and official of the government expressed concerns about the impacts of an industrial park project in Haiti, and alleged that it was being prepared without an independent environmental assessment with full consultation, and a technical review.  The GEF contacted the IA to inquire about what was happening.  Subsequently, following additional communications and review, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was completed with direct attention to the protection of the ecosystem and marine resources.