This year’s town hall meeting was the last one for out-going IMF director Rodrigo de Rato, and the first for recently inaugurated World Bank president Robert Zoellick. The session was moderated by Emmanuel O. Akwetey, executive director, Institute for Democratic Governance, Ghana.
Questions from NGOs were more focussed on the World Bank than the IMF. Questions were raised in relation to: forest policy, inadequate whistleblowing protections for Bank staff, Bank support for disabled people, World Bank assistance in Haiti, governance and anti-corruption, climate change, HIV-AIDS funding, private sector involvement in IDA, full disclosure of board minutes, and voice, vote and the selection process on the boards of both institutions. By way of general reaction, many NGOs were concerned at Zoellick’s proposed policies on climate change, and his privatisation drive for IDA. They were also disappointed by any progress on voice, vote and presidential selection in the case of both institutions.
On forests and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Adolphine Muley, coordinator of the union for the emancipation of indigenous women from the Democratic Republic of Congo raised serious concerns on the World Bank’s policies in the country (see Update 57). She explained that this was the third time that she was expressing her concerns to the president of the World Bank, having done so with previous presidents in 2004 and 2005, on both occasions to little avail and empty promises. She explained that 40 million people live or depend on in the rainforests of the Congo. It is also essential for combatting climate change. She referred President Zoellick to the recent Inspection Panel report that finds that the World Bank has violated a number of its safeguard policies. Zoellick replied that since 2002, the Bank had been working to restore the traditional rights of forest dwellers and recruited the NGO Global Witness as a third party observer to detect illegal logging processes. He then went on to list a number of initiatives where the Bank is working “to include the role of indigenous peoples”.
On the selection of World Bank President, Zoellick stated that he was “nominated and selected”, and that with regards to the governance of these institutions, “it is the role of the shareholders to decide who they want”. On transparency of board decision-making, he said that “the nature of diplomacy” is such that many things need to be discussed behind closed doors and implied that because board meetings are so long and frequent, people may not want to listen to them anyway.
On whistleblowing: Shelly Walden from Global Accountability Project enquired about the lack of whistleblowing protection for Bank staff. Zoellick suggested that a policy was in process and may be out by the end of the year.
On de Rato’s legacy at the IMF: de Rato said that the IMF had been trying to increase civil society relations and that he had found meetings with NGOs useful.
On fiscal space: Eric Gutierrez from ActionAid pointed out that many countries are constrained from more expansionary growth policies by policies such as IMF targets on low inflation and zero budget deficits. He urged de Rato to use the IMF’s signaling power to support a country’s efforts to expand their fiscal space and be able to get more resources so that they can provide for essential services. De Rato replied that he wouldn’t advise any country to increase inflation or to have a zero budget deficit just for the sake of it. It would depend on the economic particulars of the country. He said that the IMF is giving more resources to studying fiscal space than it used to.
On climate change: Eric Vogt of IUCN said to de Rato that he had been told recently by IMF executive directors that climate change is of no significance to the IMF, given that it has no macroeconomic significance. De Rato refuted this point and said that climate change will be given a detailed analysis in the next World Economic Outlook. On carbon trading, Zoellick said that he was looking forward to attending the climate change conference in Bali in November and stated that the World Bank should be a clearing house and source of expertise on technology, including carbon sequestration and “clean coal”. He intends to integrate climate change economics with development economics.
On IDA and the private sector: Zoellick said he felt that the private sector has an important role to play, and forms a key part of company corporate social responsibility. He added that UNICEF raises money in the private sector and that he had a good relationship with the Gates Foundation.