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US bill requires OPIC to implement recommendations of the Office of Accountability on failed Buchanan Renewables project

Following a complaint by Liberian communities at the independent Office of Accountability of OPIC, US President Obama signed a bill into law that increases federal oversight of OPIC's operations and requires it to implement recommendations for improvement.

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 22, 2014

On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, President Obama signed the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill into law, securing a victory for communities in Liberia and environmental and human rights advocates. The law includes provisions in an explanatory statement that hold the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) accountable for its role in a failed energy project in Liberia, which resulted in serious human rights, labor and environmental abuses. The federal agency approved over US$200 million in financing for the project, operated by Buchanan Renewables.

The provisions are a response to an independent investigation report that OPIC released in September 2014, following a January 2014 complaint by hundreds of Liberians demanding accountability for widespread abuses associated with the project. The 102-page report revealed institutional failures and accountability gaps at the agency and included extensive recommendations to prevent future harm.
Concerned with the findings in the report, Congress attached the explanatory statement’s provisions to
the Appropriations bill which increase federal oversight of OPIC’s operations and require the agency to
report to Congress within 90 days on its plan to implement the report’s recommendations.

“Although we are pleased that policymakers in Washington are taking steps to address the troubling
findings in the report, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Liberians were harmed by this project and their injuries have not yet been redressed,” commented Alfred Brownell of Green Advocates International, a Liberian organization representing victims. “We are hopeful that these institutional changes at OPIC will bring forth greater accountability and transparency, so that other communities will not suffer the harms experienced in Liberia,” expressed his colleague, Francis Colee.

“We called on policymakers in Washington to act and they responded,” stated Kindra Mohr of Accountability Counsel, a legal organization working with the Liberians. “Although we are disappointed that the legislation does not address the issue of remedy, this is a victory that will help protect other vulnerable communities. We expect that Congress will remain engaged in ensuring that OPIC meaningfully responds to this mandate and fully implements the report’s numerous recommendations for institutional change.”

The provisions also call on OPIC to undertake an open and competitive hiring process to fill the vacant Office of Accountability Director position, which has been unstaffed for months since the report’s release. The previous Director was the primary author of the report, and the vacancy has left communities harmed by OPIC-supported projects without an independent office to receive their complaints. “A functional and effective Office of Accountability is fundamental to providing project-affected communities with an independent and safe forum to express their concerns,” stated Anne Schuit, a researcher at the Dutch organization SOMO in its Human Rights and Grievance Mechanisms program. “It is reassuring to see that the U.S. government views the Office of Accountability as an essential component of achieving positive development outcomes for vulnerable communities.”

Two additional reports by SOMO and Green Advocates about the impacts of the project are available here and here

For more information, please contact:
Alfred Brownell, Green Advocates International, alfredbrownell@gmail.com, +231-886-444-472
Francis Colee, Green Advocates International, francis.colee@elaw.org, +231-777-077-206
Kindra Mohr, Accountability Counsel, kindra@accountabilitycounsel.org, +1-415-296-6761
Anne Schuit, SOMO, a.schuit@somo.nl, +31-206-391-291

For the press release, please click here.