2014 – 2016 Feeding our Casework in Liberia into OPIC Policy Change

In January 2014, Accountability Counsel assisted hundreds of Liberian farmers, charcoal producers, and workers in filing a complaint to OPIC about its role in a failed biomass project that caused serious labor and human rights abuses and environmental devastation. In response to our complaint, OPIC’s OA conducted an independent investigation and released a report about the agency’s role in the project in September 2014. The report, published alongside a short response from OPIC’s president and CEO, revealed numerous institutional failures and accountability gaps at OPIC and made important recommendations to prevent future harm and improve OPIC’s ability to track the impacts of its projects.

The OA director left his position shortly after publishing the report, as his term had ended. The OA remained unstaffed for several months after the review’s release, leaving communities harmed by OPIC projects without an independent office to receive their complaints. OPIC told Accountability Counsel that it had no immediate plans to hire a new Director and would instead rely on personnel within its management team to handle complaints, undermining the independent nature of the complaint process.

In our follow up conversations with OPIC regarding its plans to implement the report’s recommendations and fill the vacant OA director position, the agency failed to provide concrete information regarding its timeline or process for either priority issue. Accountability Counsel therefore turned to key policymakers in Washington, D.C., urging them to take action and hold OPIC accountable for its failures. As a result of our advocacy efforts, Congress responded by including language on both of these issues in FY2015 appropriations legislation.

On 16 December, 2014, President Obama signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, which contained provisions in an explanatory statement that increased federal oversight over OPIC’s operations and required OPIC to report to Congress within 90 days on its plan to implement the OA report’s recommendations. The provisions also directed OPIC to staff its vacant Office of Accountability. The provisions stated:

“…OPIC is also directed to fill the vacant Office of Accountability director position through an open and competitive hiring process…[and] [n]ot later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, the President of OPIC shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations OPIC management’s plan to implement the recommendations of the September 2014 report by OPIC’s Office of Accountability pertaining to Liberia.”

Read our joint press release about this important legislation.

On 17 March, 2015, OPIC published a brief plan on its website pertaining to Liberia in response to policymakers’ call to action. The plan outlines various institutional and operational reforms, ranging from dedicating adequate resources for high-risk projects to requiring more robust project-level grievance mechanisms. Although these reforms could help protect vulnerable communities like those in Liberia if implemented properly, the plan lacks critical details about the substance and impact of these reforms.

Read our joint press release about OPIC’s response.

After leaving the OA director post vacant for almost 16 months, OPIC hired its current OA director in February 2016.

Accountability Counsel will continue to work to ensure that OPIC meaningfully responds to this congressional mandate and fully implements the report’s numerous recommendations for institutional change.