Illegal projects: How World Bank Arbitrators Mugged Pakistan

9 December 2019 by Jeffrey D. Sachs


(CC - flickr - Shaun Metcalfe)

Thanks to the World Bank’s flawed and corrupt investment arbitration process, the rich are making a fortune at the expense of poor countries. The latest shakedown is a $5.9 billion award against Pakistan’s government in favor of two global mining companies for an illegal project that was never approved or carried out.

NEW YORK – Wall Street hedge funds and lawyers have turned an arcane procedure of international treaties into a money machine, at the cost of the world’s poorest people. The latest shakedown is a $5.9 billion award against Pakistan’s government in favor of two global mining companies – Antofagasta PLC of Chile and Barrick Gold Corporation of Canada – for a project that was never approved by Pakistan and never carried out.

Here are the facts.

In 1993, a US-incorporated mining company, BHP, entered into a joint venture (JV) with the Balochistan Development Authority (BDA), a public corporation in Pakistan’s impoverished Balochistan province. The JV was set up to prospect for gold and copper, and in the event of favorable discoveries, to seek a mining license. BHP was not optimistic about the project’s profitability and dragged its feet on exploration. In the early 2000s, it assigned the prospecting rights to an Australian company, which created Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) for the project.

In 2006, Antofagasta acquired TCC for $167 million, and sold half to Barrick Gold. Soon after the purchase, however, the original JV agreement with BHP was challenged in Pakistan’s courts. In 2013, the Pakistan Supreme Court found that the JV’s terms violated Pakistan’s mining and contract laws in several ways and declared the agreement – and thus the rights claimed by TCC – to be null and void.

Specifically, the Court ruled that the BDA did not have authority to bind Balochistan to the terms of the JV agreement; that it awarded the contract without competition or transparency; and that it had greatly exceeded its authority and violated the law by promising extensive deviations from the rules normally applicable to mining projects. Moreover, the JV failed to obtain, and even to pursue, many mandatory approvals from the state and federal governments, and BHP failed to undertake prospecting in a timely manner required under the mining law.

The Supreme Court’s decision came after years of public-interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. litigation challenging the deal for violations of domestic law and the rights of the public. In the meantime, the BDA’s chairman was found to have conflicts of interest and to be living beyond the means afforded by his official salary, which in the Court’s words was tantamount to corruption.

In a normal world, the Court’s judgment would be respected absent proven evidence of corruption or other wrongdoing against the justices. But in the world we actually inhabit, the so-called international rule of law enables rich companies to exploit poor countries with impunity and disregard their laws and courts.

When TCC lost its case in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, it simply turned to the World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID ICSID The International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is a World Bank arbitration mechanism for resolving disputes that may arise between States and foreign investors. It was established in 1965 when the Washington Convention of that year entered into force.

Contrary to some opinions defending the fact that ICSID mechanism has been widely accepted in the American hemisphere, many States in the region continue to keep their distance: Canada, Cuba, Mexico and Dominican Republic are not party to the Convention. In the case of Mexico, this attitude is rated by specialists as “wise and rebellious”. We must also recall that the following Caribbean States remain outside the ICSID jurisdiction: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica (Commonwealth of) and Suriname. In South America, Brazil has not ratified (or even signed) the ICSID convention and the 6th most powerful world economy seems to show no special interest in doing so.

In the case of Costa Rica, access to ICSID system is extremely interesting: Costa Rica signed the ICSID Convention in September, 1981 but didn’t ratify it until 12 years later, in 1993. We read in a memorandum of GCAB (Global Committee of Argentina Bondholders) that Costa Rica`s decision resulted from direct United States pressure due to the Santa Elena expropriation case, which was decided in 2000 :
"In the 1990s, following the expropriation of property owned allegedly by an American investor, Costa Rica refused to submit the dispute to ICSID arbitration. The American investor invoked the Helms Amendment and delayed a $ 175 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to Costa Rica. Costa Rica consented to the ICSID proceedings, and the American investor ultimately recovered U.S. $ 16 million”.

https://icsid.worldbank.org/apps/ICSIDWEB/Pages/default.aspx
), in complete disregard of Pakistan’s laws and institutions. A panel of three arbitrators with no expertise in or respect for Pakistan’s legal system ruled that TCC deserved compensation for all future profits that it allegedly would have earned if the non-existent project, based on a voided agreement, had gone forward!

Because there was no actual project, and no agreement for one, the arbitrators had no basis to say what terms – royalties, corporate taxes, environmental standards, land area, and other basic provisions – the governments of Balochistan and Pakistan would have set. In fact, disagreement on many of those terms had stalled negotiations for years.

Nonetheless, the ICSID panel arbitrarily decided that TCC would have had the right to mine 1,000 square kilometers, though the mining law forbade licensing such a vast area. The arbitrators ruled that TCC would have received a tax holiday for 15 years, even though there is no evidence that such a tax holiday was in the offing – or even legal. The arbitrators decided that TCC would have benefited from a royalty rate several percentage points below the mandatory statutory rate, though there is no reason why Pakistan would have set such a low rate.

The arbitrators also ruled that TCC would have met all environmental standards, or that the government would have exempted TCC from relevant requirements, though the mining area is in a desert region subject to extreme water stress, and the mining project would have demanded vast amounts of water. And the arbitrators ruled that to obtain the land needed for TCC’s pipeline, the government would have taken it from its owners and inhabitants.

The arbitration ruling is utterly capricious. An illegal project, declared null and void by Pakistan’s Supreme Court and never pursued, was found by the World Bank’s arbitration panel to be worth more than $4 billion to TCC’s owners, who had paid $167 million for it in 2006. Moreover, the tribunal declared that Pakistan must compensate TCC in full, with back interest, and cover its legal fees, raising the bill to $5.9 billion, or roughly 2% of Pakistan’s GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
. It is more than twice Pakistan’s entire public spending on health care for 200 million people, in a country where 7% of children die before their fifth birthday. For many Pakistanis, the World Bank’s arbitration ruling is a death sentence.

The ICSID is not an honest broker. One of the tribunal members in the TCC case is using the same expert put forward by TCC for another case in which the arbitrator is acting as counsel! When challenged about this obvious conflict of interest, the arbitrator refused to step down and the ICSID proceeded as if all were normal.

Thanks to the World Bank’s arbitrators, the rich are making a fortune at the expense of poor countries. Multinational companies are feasting on unapproved, non-existent projects. Fixing the broken arbitration system should start with a reversal of the outrageous ruling against Pakistan and a thorough investigation of the flawed and corrupt process that made it possible.




Jeffrey D. Sachs

is University Professor at Columbia University and Sustainable Development Goals Advocate for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, Building the New American Economy, and most recently, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.

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