Northern corridor infrastructure environmental safeguards

June 17, 2015

East African region is gearing up for increased infrastructure financing to support the drive for stronger economic growth. That’s good news for narrowing the perennial gaps in energy and transport that constrain growth prospects in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and South Sudan dubbed the northern corridor infrastructure development.But, unless accompanied by protective safeguards, these projects risk damaging the region’s environment, climate and communities and hindering growth. This must be a top concern for both the four countries environmentalists and bureaucrats as well as the lenders.That is because failed safeguards cost far more than sound regulation and enforcement.The gain from safeguards would be several times higher than the cost of having them. The environmental benefit of pollution abatement is three to 10 times the cost, according to some estimates I have read. The benefit of preserving biodiversity in Rwanda and Uganda areas where the pipeline and railway line will pass need to be addressed to avoid triggering for an ecosystem collapse.

Northern Corridor Implementation Authority that will be formed to coordinate and follow-up implementation of projects in order of priority as agreed on by the member states behind the northern corridor,need to appreciate that development must come hand in hand with improved safeguard policies, including support for the countries’ safeguard systems.Host President Yoweri Museveni and his counterparts Kenya’s Uhuru Kenya and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame agreed to establish the new Authority in the recent 10th Northern Corridor Integration Projects Summit held in Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort in Kampala.Each country of the Northern Corridor member states is expected to appoint a person to work full-time in monitoring the status of implementation of projects.The Agreement on Total Liberalization of Free Movement of Labour, Agreement on Total Liberalization of Free Movement of Services, Memorandum of Understanding with EPC for the Western and Southern routes of the Standard Gauge Railway, Memorandum of Understanding on Foreign Policy Coordination as well as Memorandum of Understanding on Cyber Security heralded a new chapter in the region where cooperation will be the normal business.However, disappointingly, the Northern Corridor Integration Projects Web Portal that will facilitate communication and transmission of information on the projects is still in infancy yet the projects have already commenced.

These commitments by the region’s leaders are critical, because in the push for faster growth businesses increasingly regard safeguard provisions as an onerous cost to be tolerated or avoided. There are also valid criticisms that safeguard regulations are being violated. The vital question is what is a desirable scope of safeguards, and how to get good compliance. There’s a growing consensus on the question of the “what”, but the “how” remains highly problematic. In particular, growth concerns press for greater flexibility in how safeguards are implemented. By citing a need to alleviate the burden for borrowers and executing agencies, it is tempting for alterations or new proposals to relax requirements for mitigation when approving a project and table them later instead. Rather than diluting safeguard policies this way, the northern corridor infrastructure development planners should adhere to delivering sound safeguards while seeking greater efficiency and speed by reforming internal procedures that hopefully the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority will address.Indeed, sound economics argues for enforceable actions to rectify market failures that cause spillover damages from public and private investment especially the fact that in Kampala meeting leaders agreed to involve private sector in financing the projects.

At the start of projects, and not just those supported by development partners like China, there has to be a binding mitigation plan based on established and clear rules, and compliance to the plan ought to be verified by an independent party and disclosed publicly.That is why Uganda Government need praise for embarking on a campaign to educate the public in various parts of the country where the construction of those infrastructures will affect people.Development partners need to make improvements in their safeguard policies, which could provide lessons for the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority as well.The changes sought need to be about strengthening safeguard implementation to get better environmental and social results, and not about weakening compliance and enforcement of the regulation. Development partners and countries involved in the Northern Corridor projects must aim for better environmental and social impacts from safeguards as they expand infrastructure investment.That includes support for commitment, capacity and systems in Indonesia and others to strengthen these defenses and their efficiency.

Contador Harrison