African heads of state met in Libreville, Gabon in January to discuss the economic agenda for Africa in the new millennium. Poverty reduction was high on the agenda. They endorsed the new IMF-WB poverty reduction framework, however, they requested that this should not result in additional conditionality.
Similar concerns were raised when IMF and World Bank officials met African ministers in Abidjan and Addis Ababa to discuss the new poverty framework. Ministers at the Abidjan meeting stated that donor behaviour had to change but acknowledged that they themselves must implement transparent budgetary procedures if donors are to proceed with untied budgetary support. Ministers also emphasized that poverty reduction was more than social spending and that employment creation, infrastructure development and access to northern markets were also essential.
Discussions at the Addis Ababa meeting stressed the need to demonstrate short-term gains to give credibility to the process and how to achieve fair income distribution. Questioning who should be considered civil society, delegates remarked that assessment of the process must be made on a case by case basis. Ministers insisted that the PRSP should not be regarded as imposing a political mandate for poverty reduction but a means for organising how it is done. Ministers also noted a tension between developing national strategies and Washington endorsing them.
The IMF argues that endorsement is necessary because the PRSP will form the basis for multilateral lending. This is not strictly true, because it is the Letter of Intent and the Country Assistance Strategy which form the basis of the Fund and Bank’s lending programmes.
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