All multilateral banks have certain policies and processes. Notwithstanding the growing pressure of the affected communities and civil society, these banks bring out documents essentially to satisfy themselves on paper. It is a make-believe world, that always states that the environmental and social implications have been carefully analysed, often at a whopping cost by an ex-patriate “specialist” and safeguards actually followed in lending. Subsequent reports, unless there is a big hue-and- cry by the affected communities, merely follow the criteria that all is well with the project and eventually the project has been successful.

The recent project document released by Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank on the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project unmasks the Banks for its complete hypocrisy. The project aims to deliver a combination of emergency response and health system capacity building efforts consistent with the COVID-19 containment plan that was recently developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), Government of India (GOI) with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. In addition to scaling up interventions to limit human-to-human transmission, interventions that strengthen health systems will be rolled out to improve the country’s capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and allow it to be better prepared to respond to any future disease outbreaks.

When one looks into the details of the project, it claims that the US D $ 1.5 Billion sought and granted under this loan would enable 70 percent of the districts in India to have a covid isolation facility and will have strengthened our long-term ability to deal with pandemics. Not only that, it would have also enhanced our medical research capabilities. AIIB claims it is a coordinated effort of the multilateral banks and as it has been its practice since the beginning to co-finance the project. The World Bank is the major financier bringing in a billion USD.

Anachronic Financing that Unmasks all Claims

The document released a couple of days ago, states that the project implementation period is from May 11th 2020 to 31st of December 2024. One would therefore assume that the project document would be available and there would be scope for analysis and feedback. However, the biggest give-away is that there are no conditions for disbursements and further there is a clause that allows for a huge “retro-active” financing. Up to forty percent of the fund could have been used from 1st of January to May 11th even before the project start date. If nearly half the money has been accounted for before the project started, what is then the use of all the unnecessary paper and the consultants writing on environmental and social safeguards and transparency in the financial processes.

What would have been the expenditure on which this forty percent would have been spent. The document states, (M) “major planned procurement includes goods (medical equipment; supplies and commodities; diagnostic reagents, including kits; and PPE including masks, gloves, etc.); services (development and dissemination of communication messages and materials); some small civil works (strengthening of hospitals and laboratories, etc.); and a few consultancy selections. It is anticipated that most of the goods are available in India, barring certain medical equipment, which are currently being imported and not available―off the shelf.”

Since such project documents, as a religion, need to identify the beneficiaries, the document tamely states, “(G) given the nature of COVID-19, the primary project beneficiaries will be infected people, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel, service providers at medical and testing facilities (both public and private), and public and animal health agencies engaged in India’s COVID-19 response. Staff of key technical departments and health departments will also benefit from the project as their capabilities increase through institutional capacity strengthening.”

Hollier-than-thou AIIB claims that its support will immediately enable the GOI scale up efforts to limit human-to-human transmission, including reducing local transmission of cases and containing the progress of the pandemic from phase III (cluster of cases) to phase IV (community transmission). One wonders what if any major action except for the lockdown for necessary to enable this.

We already are a witness to the saga of procuring unusable and highly inflated diagnostic kits which is now a matter of contention in the Supreme Court. We also know how some of the Gujarat based companies have been always in the limelight to procure orders in such circumstances. What takes the cake is the section titled governance and corruption in the document which aims to claim that it is holier than the World Bank – AIIB is committed to preventing fraud and corruption in the projects it finances. For this project, the WB’s Anti-Corruption Guidelines shall apply, which are materially consistent with AIIB’s Policy on Prohibited Practices (2016) (PPP). However, AIIB’s PPP will apply in regard to the prohibited practices of “Misuse of Resources” and “Theft”, which are not covered under the WB’s Anti-Corruption Guidelines. AIIB reserves the right to undertake investigations in regard to the Prohibited Practices of “Misuse of Resources” and “Theft”, not covered under the WB’s Anti-Corruption Guidelines.

Now that the post-Paris Bank, which claims itself to be lean, green and clean has already has its money taken and spent, it begs the question why this hypocrisy?

The article published in ImpactNews can be accessed here.

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