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 could include lack of consultation with interested stakeholders and communities, issues relating to the rights of Indigenous Peoples and gender equality, perception of wrongdoing or mismanagement, or other concerns.
Regardless of the cause, the GEF Secretariat takes all concerns seriously. For that reason, the GEF created the position of GEF Conflict Resolution Commissioner.
The Commissioner works directly with member countries, GEF Agencies and affected stakeholders to help resolve disputes and address complaints and other issues relevant to GEF operations, and reports directly to the GEF CEO. Through the Commissioner, the CEO aims to expand feedback and respond more quickly to issues and concerns that may arise in GEF-funded projects.
The conflict resolution function is set out in the GEF Policy on the Agency Minimum Standards on Environmental and Social Safeguards. The Commissioner’s service is intended to complement the work of the independent accountability and grievance mechanisms of individual GEF Agencies (See Agency Mechanisms for Conflict Resolution and Accountability). Other GEF policies and guidelines, including on fiduciary standards, public involvement, gender, indigenous peoples, and others, are located here.
A person concerned about a GEF-financed project may bring a complaint forward, either to a local or country-level dispute resolution system, a GEF Partner Agency or the GEF Resolution Commissioner.
When a person submits a complaint, the Commissioner will confirm receipt and be in touch with the person to seek any needed clarifications, review possible next steps, and answer any questions about the conflict resolution function. Normally, the Commissioner will also contact other interested parties to seek further information on the matter. These initial steps normally will be completed within three weeks of receipt of the initial complaint. The Commissioner will at all times respect requests for confidentiality and anonymity by persons submitting complaints.
On the basis of these initial steps, the Commissioner will determine if the complaint falls within the mandate of the GEF conflict resolution function. If so, the Commissioner works to develop next steps to seek resolution of the conflict in dialogue with the parties involved and taking into account the nature of the complaint, the requests of the person(s) bringing the complaint, and relevant information. The steps may include facilitation of dialogue to resolve the issues, seeking appropriate responsive action by the responsible parties, conciliation or mediation, independent fact-finding, and/or referral of the matter to the independent grievance mechanism of a responsible implementing agency (in the case of GEF-financed projects), among others. 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.
Key features of the approach are to facilitate dialogue among stakeholders (using corporate activities such as the National Dialogues), mediate/resolve issues, enhance the GEF internal climate of trust and transparency, and develop lessons to improve future operations. The GEF also undertakes a systematic effort to raise awareness about the conflict resolution commissioner function through the Country Support Programme and other suitable venues.
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
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. The CRC informed the complainants of the GEF system in place to respond to these matters, including information and contacts at the Grievance Mechanism of the implementing Agency. The complainants formally submitted their complaints to the implementing agency grievance 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 mechanism 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 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 grievance mechanism at the implementing agency. The mechanism confirmed this to the CRC, and is following its required procedures in reviewing and acting upon this complaint. The Agency will 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 (parts of this re-organization are ongoing in early 2017). The complaining parties have 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.