Georgian environment group Green Alternative has today written to the executive directors of both the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation to express the group's misgivings with the public disclosure process surrounding the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.
Backed by other groups in the region, the letter focuses on the multi-stakeholder meetings which the IFC and the EBRD will be co-sponsoring in the pipeline affected countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Both multi-lateral development banks are considering funding the controversial pipeline and the public meetings should, in theory, play a vital part in the banks' 120-day project approval process which commenced on June 13. The meetings are scheduled to begin at the end of this month:
August 26 – Erzurum, Turkey
August 28 – Adana, Turkey
September 1 – Ganja, Azerbaijan
September 4 – Baku, Azerbaijan
September 8 – Borjomi, Georgia
September 11 – Tbilisi, Georgia
Nino Gujaraidze, of Green Alternative, commented, "We had hoped that the multi-stakeholder meetings would provide opportunities for a thorough public examination of the many unresolved, problematic issues which have dogged the BTC project since its inception. We subsequently discovered that there will be only two meetings per country and that in terms of attendee numbers the meetings will have a significant bias towards government and big business interests. The EBRD/IFC joint commitment to 'full public consultation' threatens to be yet another slap in the face to BTC affected communities."
A related criticism of the Tbilisi based NGO's letter again hinges on the "full public consultation" promise. Currently the project documentation is available in its entirety only on the websites of the BTC Company, the EBRD and the IFC, in head offices of the BTC Company, and in some international organisations' headquarters in capital cities. Public comments can be either directed to the BTC Company offices or e-mailed via the EBRD and IFC websites. For affected communities in often remote areas these arrangements only add to their sense of isolation and frustration.
The public meetings are thus shaping up to be stage-managed talking shops, in full violation of EBRD/World Bank policies and guidelines on environmental impact assessment consultations. To redress the seemingly inevitable democratic deficit, Green Alternative is calling on the banks' executive directors to:
Actively promote debate on the sensitive issues thrown up by this oil project;
Ensure feedback to stakeholders on the results of the public consultation activities, emphasising how their input played a part in the decision-making process
Among the EBRD's stated reasons for considering involvement in this project is that it could provide 'political comfort' for the BTC Company in the volatile Caspian region. Is it asking too much for the people of this region to be afforded similar respect in the form of full, unhindered participation in the public disclosure process?
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