Press Responses : Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Group wants Crown-owned bank to follow environmental act when dealing loans

Tuesday, May 15, 2001
OTTAWA (CP) - A coalition of non-governmental organizations wants Ottawa to force the federally owned Export Development Corp. to apply the Environmental Assessment Act when deciding to fund foreign projects.
The NGO Working Group on the Export Development Corp. released its second annual report Monday on EDC-financed projects it says have had severe social and environmental consequences.
"EDC's environmental review framework does not ask the kinds of questions that it would be required to ask if it was subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act," said Pamela Foster, a group spokeswoman.
An auditor general's assessment of the EDC's framework was expected Tuesday. Another federal review is expected within two months, said EDC spokesman Rod Giles, who dismissed the NGO's 29-page document as disappointing and inaccurate.
For instance, people weren't forced off their land to make way for development projects without compensation as the report claimed in some cases, said Giles, who noted EDC officials co-operated fully with the authors.
"They sprung this on us and didn't share the report in advance," said Giles, adding it's up to government to decide what guidelines EDC places on its loans.
Monday's document looks at eight projects financed by the highly secretive federal bank:
- The PT TEL pulp and paper million in Indonesia, to which EDC loaned $205 million US. The group says the operation is marked by intimidation and widespread expropriation, unemployment, pollution and health problems.
- Chile's Ralco dam, which will flood 3,400 hectares of land and displace 600 people. The EDC provided $17 million US to the project which, the report says, is rife with corruption.
- In India, EDC provided $403 million to the Chamera I dam in 1984 and $175 million to the Chamera II dam in 1999, which together have contributed to unemployment, uncompensated resettlement, deforestation and fish kills.
- Columbia's 1996 Urra hydroelectric dam project brought with it repression, assassination, devastation and an epidemic of mosquito-borne diseases from flooding, the report says.
Other projects the group assessed include a mine in Tanzania, to which EDC provided $173 million US, a mine in Peru ($135 million US) and two projects to which EDC's contributions are unknown: a fertilizer operation in Argentina and a dam in Africa.
At least three of the projects were financed after EDC adopted its voluntary environmental framework in 1989, said Foster.
Federal legislation that created EDC - the Export Development Act - dictates its operating methods, said Giles.
"It's really up to the government to decide how it wants EDC to function."
The EDC, which report writer Asad Ismi called the most secretive government agency he's encountered, was to release a draft disclosure policy when it responds to the auditor general's report today.
"The draft policy will be a significant departure from our current practices,"said Giles.
© The Canadian Press, 2001