Accelerating investment without social and environmental checks?
04 June 2013
By José de Echave, director of Cooperacción and former environment minister
It seems that the government has once again given into pressure. In late May the President announced a first package of reforms to boost investment, meeting demands coming from industry associations and their advocates in the media.
What are some of the key measures announced that are undoubtedly cause for concern?
The first is the creation of a team of executives and managers, attached to the Finance Ministry, who will be in charge of monitoring the implementation of investment projects. The question is, who will form this team? Will it only be made up of managers close to Confiep, the national business confederation, or the free market Instituto Peruano de Economía, or will it be properly balanced? Will it include representatives of civil society, academia and social organisations? Will social and environmental specialists be involved?
A second measure aims to ease access to land for infrastructure projects, thanks to a recent law that separates the act of expropriation from payment for it. It is designed to expedite a set of infrastructure projects, without taking into account that this issue has been the source of numerous conflicts around the country.
Perhaps one of the most worrying reforms seeks to speed up approval of environmental impact assessments (EIAs). These will have to be approved in under 100 days. No great insight is needed to realise that this sort of decision does not help to strengthen the vital environmental safeguard that EIAs represent, since the authorities – including the environmental certification system (SENACE) that only began operation last April – lack the capacity to carry out rigorous evaluations in this timeframe.
What is certain is that this first package arouses justified concerns. It’s no bad thing for the government to help develop investments that benefit the country. But failing to consider the reality of recent years – the majority of conflicts revolve around social and environmental demands – is a demonstration that we are facing a government that has lost the necessary social and environmental equilibrium. What will the next reform packages involve?
The government’s retreats, contradictory messages and weakness in the face of key economic interest groups are increasingly evident. They were visible in the abortive state purchase of a stake in Repsol, in the quagmire of prior consultation of indigenous peoples, and now with this investment promotion package. Those who lost the elections in 2011 can feel secure that they won in the end.