Redi Basha, Abkons partner
Abkons sees itself as more than a group of consultants: we feel a sense of responsibility towards the region in which we operate and have developed an approach to drive forward project effectiveness while, at every step, bringing local people on board.
Land goes to the heart of the identity and welfare of any community, not least in an agricultural context. Projects affecting use or ownership of land must tread with caution to mitigate the inevitable social, political and legal obstacles that emerge when land interests are threatened. A preferable approach encompasses goodwill, sensitivity to local needs and avoidance/minimising of involuntary resettlement. EBRD performance requirements and IFC performance standards provide useful guides of how this might be done, envisaging that an optimal project would:
1. Mitigate adverse social and economic
impacts from land acquisition or restrictions on affected persons’ use of and access to assets and land by: (i) providing compensation for loss of assets at replacement cost; and (ii) ensuring that resettlement activities are implemented with appropriate disclosure of information, consultation and the informed participation of those affected;
2. Restore or, where possible, improve the livelihoods and standards of living of displaced persons to pre-displacement levels; and
3. Improve living conditions among physically displaced persons through the provision of adequate housing, including security of tenure at resettlement sites.
Land acquisition is a complex exercise involving developers, landowners and their dependents, local communities, local government and national government. A multi-faceted approach has to be taken to ensure this potentially volatile web of relationships remains stable and productive. Developers should establish long-term, positive relationships with communities by minimising land impacts, consulting and involving local people, and harnessing local expertise to increase project effectiveness. Local government is the likely target of complaints in development contexts, and so developers should liaise closely with municipal authorities to ease tension and address concerns. Clear channels of communication must exist with national government, which is typically responsible for the expropriation process, to ensure a well-planned land acquisition process.
Abkons has sought to put these principles into practice, most recently in the Albanian section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The pipeline risked creating obvious and numerous conflicts given its scale. Advised by Abkons since the start of the project’s implementation in 2008, TAP has adopted an effective stakeholder engagement process, founded on trust and local community involvement at every step. TAP held a thorough consultation process, holding around 500 community meetings and mapping out land ownership through systematic procuring of legal documents. Sensitive local land uses, including beekeeping and fishing, were addressed as priorities. Abkons involved hundreds of experienced and young professionals to complete the Land Acquisition for Albania section in time and with excellent quality. No hotspots emerged in the section, with over 80% of interest-holders signing contracts with TAP.
The approach Abkons infused in TAP has been received warmly by the Government of Albania, which is now seeking to replicate this model in development projects across the country. Abkons has been a pioneer of a sensitive, progressive doctrine of regional development – and one that has proved highly effective. Abkons continues to work across the region with similar clients to implement this approach.
On paper, the formula seems simple: trust, meaningful engagement and integrity at every step. In practice, this approach often seems the hardest. Abkons has the intellectual commitment and operational capacity to successfully implement this approach, no matter how volatile the context.