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Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017: Second Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 951 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] The European Parliament has noted that, "so far the AIIB’s governance structures do not foresee adequate involvement of shareholders in project financing decisions, and that the publicly available project documentation lacks any detail on the fulfilment of the environmental and social measures that the AIIB requires from its lenders". We should not shirk from those questions. I believe on this occasion it is a case of being better off inside the tent than outside it. As Dr. Stiglitz stated: "Moreover, the need for environmental and social safeguards in infrastructure investment is more likely to be addressed effectively within a multilateral framework". Irish investment should be monitored to ensure our investment is not being pumped into projects that do not respect social, human and environmental rights.

The policy decision for me is clear, but we should not forget that this is not just a matter of signing an agreement. We have to put our money where our mouth is. The Minister told Deputy Doherty last week - perhaps he has updated figures - that Ireland’s membership of the AIIB could result in a charge of some €50 million on the Exchequer based on projected annual payments of €10 million per annum for five years. Looking at the figures in the schedule of the contribution made by other similar countries, that seems on the low side. Denmark, for example is down for €369.5 million and Finland is down for €310 million. Is this country trying to get in on the cheap? This is not an insignificant investment for a country of our size. It is only right that it is debated here and requires our approval.

When we dealt with the Single Resolution Board (Loan Facility Agreement) Bill, we made the point, which was accepted through our amendment, that when we sign off on international agreements, it is not good enough to have the Dáil sign off once and that changes to what we agreed can then be made without further approval. There is a question of how practical Dáil approval for change might be, but I would tend to err on the cautious side. In the Single Resolution Board (Loan Facility Agreement) Bill, the issue was that a call on this State to provide more money could be made beyond what was agreed without the Dáil having to approve such a change.

We have strict rules over the money that can be spent in Bills, which I believe is an archaic system, yet when it comes to an international trade agreement, a blank cheque can be written. We will review the provisions in this Bill to see if an amendment is required to tighten up the Oireachtas oversight. Development banks are good. We should use them far more often. Our take-up of European Investment Bank funding is a disgrace. It remains far too low, even during the current housing crisis. There is a huge chasm between where our capital investment is and where it needs to be. We support this Bill.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank is one of a number of development banks around the world with which Ireland is associated, the biggest ones being the IMF, the European Investment Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the founding of which I believe was heavily influenced by the Japanese, just as this one is heavily influenced in its establishment by the Government of China.

In looking at development banks as a model, one has to ask who the development infrastructures are for. In this respect, and I do not think this was addressed in the Minister's contribution, what we have to look at in terms of the developing countries of Asia is that the number of girls who are in education is depressingly small. I am not including the very developed countries in Asia in that, but the failure of girls to be at school and to receive education is probably one of the greatest issues that can affect a country in terms of retarding its progress and development. I would like to know from the Minister, and from the officials in the Department of Finance and those people who will service Ireland's participation in the agency, what exactly is the development ethos that will influence Ireland's stance regarding this bank when it gets under way.

The second issue in regard to women is that in many countries in Asia, far more is spent on armaments than is spent on women's general development. I worked in Africa for a number of years. I was back recently on a private visit to Tanzania, in east Africa. Any country which seeks to have development without an intense and full participation by women will not succeed, nor will any kind of attractive society emerge as a product. It is also likely to be a much more unequal society, and it may well be an intensely patriarchal society. We also know that there are different forces in the world who object strenuously to girls barely getting any education at all, so we need to know the underlying approach to development in terms of the Department of Finance and the mandarins who inevitably will be guiding Ireland's participation in this bank.

The third issue is how the bank, and Ireland's potential contribution to the bank, will be utilised so as to help to deliver services to the people who are the poorest in society. By and large, that is women and children. While the references in the material regarding the bank mention not only economic but social progress, I challenge the Minister and the civil servants to set out specifically, in terms of Ireland's long record in working in developing countries, how our participation in the bank will meet our own tradition of assisting in development in a way that is balanced and that takes into account the poorest people in any society, and not only the rich men in society but, in particular, women and children. When we move beyond that category, by and large we are also talking about people in rural areas often being extremely poor in terms of resources. That is one question the Minister must answer.

The other question the Minister must answer is to give us a picture of how this bank will operate. Will it be an applications bank to which various countries will apply for funding? Will the funding be dictated by the bank or will the applications come from the bottom up? Development banks have a great capacity to influence, for the good, the development of infrastructure that serves whole societies and regions in a fair way. Equally, if it was to turn out to be just a boys' club, it could be something that would be utilised on an exclusive basis. We know, for instance, that China has made reference to having various initiatives such as a recreation, in modern highway terms, of the old Silk Route, going back to the time of Marco Polo and earlier in Chinese history, and strengthening the transport links by road and possibly by rail between Asia and Europe. We need to spell out exactly what the bank is likely to do. What is its vision statement? What is its statement regarding countries such as Nepal, where there is a crying need for development and infrastructure?

Debate adjourned.

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