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IFI governance

Analysis

World Bank-IMF spring meetings 2014

14 April 2014

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  1. Pre-meetings background
  2. Agendas and background for papers for committee meetings – IMFC and Development Committee
  3. Highlights of official meetings and communiqués
  4. Highlights of civil society meetings, and other meetings and seminars
  5. Conclusions and wrap-up

1. Pre-meetings background

The 2014 spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF will take place from 7 to 13 April in Washington, DC. You will be able to find links below to analysis of the communiqués as well as notes of some of the civil society and official meetings, as they become available.

Quick summary: As the IFIs are about to move into their 70th year of existence, the spring meetings are coming at a time of challenges for both institutions. Staff are disgruntled at institutional changes at the World Bank, but Bank management is pressing ahead with reform. The IMF leadership will be talking up its rhetoric on inequality, but will not be trumpeting any changes in Fund policy nor final approval of long-overdue governance reforms.

At the World Bank, some staff are unhappy with potential job losses while the new World Bank Group strategy moves into the implementation phase. The heads of the 14 new global practices, replacing the matrix system, are expected to be announced the Friday before the spring meetings. A leaked 2013 internal staff survey revealed that less than half of respondents agreed that the Bank “prioritises development results over the number and volume of transactions.” A town hall meeting with World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim to discuss the survey results highlighted staff’s concerns over the anticipated jobs cut implicated by the new strategy.

Kim is trying to focus attention on two main items – inequality and climate change. One of the main papers for the Development Committee (group of 25 World Bank governors) focusses on growth in the post-crisis era with discussion of the distribution of wealth and income. While climate change is not on the official agenda, the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the state of the world’s climate, released the week before the World Bank/IMF meetings, has given Kim a chance to continue highlighting the dangers of climate change. However, questions have been raised over whether the rhetoric matches the Bank’s actions. Criticism has also been raised of Bank’s renewed push for large scale hydropower, including the Inga dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite new evidence that large dams are neither cost efficient nor sustainable. Questions also remain as to whether the Bank will make further announcements on progress of its Global Infrastructure Facility, currently kept under wraps.

But an undercurrent for the entire week,beside staff discontent, will be problems that the Bank is facing. The findings of a leaked draft report from the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, due to be discussed by the Bank board in May, reported “declining performance” at the Bank, pointing to the IFC as particularly problematic. The Bank is also facing criticism over its new corporate scorecard, which is expected to be shared with governors of the Bank during the meetings. While little detail is publically available, a leaked presentation has led to concerns that the structure favours the Bank’s private sector arms. Also in the pipeline, currently open for consultation, is the Bank’s new Country Partnership Framework, underpinned by a new Systematic Diagnostic Tool, which will come into effect with the broader Bank strategy on 1 July. Civil society has complained about poor consultation and rushed approaches to human rights risks, corruption, and safeguards.

At the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank’s growing private sector arm, NGOs will continue to try to bring attention to a string of horrific human rights violations associated with IFC clients. In the wake of a January audit on Dinant Corporation, a Honduran palm oil producer and IFC client, the IFC is supposed to be trying to learn lessons and address systemic failings. Civil society will also be pressuring the IFC over its continued financial sector investments, which are accused of being a mechanism to bypass social and environmental standards. Also not on the official agenda, but likely to continue to dominate civil society concerns, is the Bank’s review of its social and environmental safeguards policies. With the review suffering delays due to the Bank Group strategy, a leaked March presentation has led to concerns that the Bank is likely to draw heavily on the standards of both the IFC and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as it develops a proposed set of ten social and environmental standards. Other civil society concerns include declining accountability of the Bank.

The IMF’s highly public engagement with the risks posed by inequality will no doubt reach an apex at the Spring meetings. Observers should expect more striking remarks from managing director Christine Lagarde, though these sentiments are not being operationalised into Fund policy and lending conditions. Few will call out the Fund over this double standard, because many are thrilled just to have the IMF using the word inequality.

What will likely be treated in cursory fashion is arguably just as important – IMF governance reform. The Obama administration has repeatedly failed to secure Congressional approval for the 4-year-old agreement to reform the Fund’s voting rights, a sore point for many countries. European countries who have continued to benefit from their over-representation are likely to stay quiet on their own responsibility to yield voting shares to developing countries, hiding behind US Congress’ obstinacy.   The IMF’s role in Ukraine will be a significant side issue and one where it is not impossible that further announcements regarding the $14 billion to $18 billion loan will be made.

Bretton Woods Project’s detailed analysis of the content of the communiqués for the G24, IMFC and Development Committee meetings will be available when each meeting is complete.


2. Agenda and background papers: International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC)

The agenda for the spring 2014 International Monetary and Financial Committee meeting, scheduled for Friday 12 April and Saturday 13 April, is now available. The main background paper was the IMF managing director’s global policy agenda.

Agenda and background papers: Development Committee

The agenda for the spring 2014 Development Committee meeting, scheduled for Saturday 13 April, is now available. The background papers are also available:


3. Highlights of official meetings

We will bring you the highlights from the communiqués at the annual meetings – including the G24, IMFC and Development Committee – as they happen.

10 April: G24 communiqué

Summary: The G24 grouping of developing countries at the IMF and World Bank has the first ministerial meeting. The G24 was “deeply dissappointed” in the US failure to approve IMF governance reform that was agreed in 2010. They promoted more work on a sovereign debt workout mechanism, and multilateral coordination on financial volatility driven by US monetary policy. Finally they strongly supported Bank president Kim’s change agenda at the Bank.

11 April: G20 finance ministers meetings

Summary: G20 finance ministers paper over disputes on Ukraine and US monetary policy tightening, promising support for an IMF package to Ukraine and clear communication on the monetary policy changes that will negatively affect developing countries. On IMF governance reform, a year-end deadline gives 1 full year of breathing space to the US administration. G20 fails to communicate support to Bank president Kim on restructuring.

12 April: IMFC communiqué

Summary: The IMFC is the direction setting body for the IMF. The IMFC repeated the G20′s new deadline for IMF governance reform, while hinting at the desire of developing countries for an even larger increase in the Fund’s resources. US monetary policy tightening was described as appropriate but asked to be “clearly communicated” The Fund is to help police tax evasion tackling and transparency on beneficial ownership through surveillance.

12 April: Development Committee communiqué

Summary: The Development Committee is the direction setting body for the World Bank. The Development Committee communiqué contained few surprises. The committee reiterated its support for the Bank’s strategy process, including the new country engagement strategy and the budgetary measures. It continued its push for a greater role for the private sector and private investment in development finance, including reiterating support for the Bank to increase its investment in infrastructure. It also welcomed the IDA replenishment, and called for continued support for fragile and conflict states.

Please see our in-depth analysis of all the communiqués with more information on the background to these positions and why they are important.


4. Highlights of civil society meetings and other seminars

For a listing of civil society events, see the Bank Information Center website. The World Bank lists events taking place in the Bank’s Civil Society policy forum. We will be posting notes of meetings attended by Bretton Woods Project and partner organisation staff, so check back often for more details.

Below we will post notes and minutes of sessions attended by the Bretton Woods Project:

07 April

08 April

09 April

10 April

11 April

12 April

13 April

5. Conclusions and wrap-up

The week’s meeting in April in Washington DC were largely dominated by some bad press stories for World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. Enough senior staff are losing their jobs in the Bank’s restructure, along with the uncertainty created for more junior staff from a pending budget trim, that some of the international press sat up and took notice. An editorial in the Financial Times criticised Kim’s efforts towards World Bank organisational changes, calling it “restructuring hell”, while the Economist argued against Kim’s recent activism in favour of equal treatment for gay and lesbian people. Those negative stories probably felt like a slap in the face for a man who has been trying his best to revive his NGO days and styles himself the leader of a global movement to end poverty. The G20 statement’s failure to endorse reforms did not help; but the week ended well for Kim with a Development Committee press briefing where committee chair Marek Belka, expressed resounding support for Kim and admiration for successful change that is going on within the Bank.

From the civil society point of view, the Bank’s biggest problems were not disgruntled Bank staff, but irresponsible International Finance Corporation (IFC) investments. Every question fielded by World Bank executive directors in an open roundtable focussed on the IFC, the Bank’s private sector arm. And packed meetings at the IFC itself saw the institution issue an unprecedented lessons learned document, outlining mistakes over the years and how it plans to change.  Still this didn’t mollify the critics, who complained that the IFC is not addressing the institutional cultural problems and systemic issues that create the problems.

CSO conversations also continued about the Bank’s safeguards policies under review, with concerns that the draft framework still holds significant weaknesses. While not on the official agenda, Belgium gave official support for many of the CSO community’s demands, including for consideration of human rights and for extension to other lending instruments beyond investment lending.

On the official side, there were many mentions of infrastructure finance with many countries and communiqués endorsing the new Global Infrastructure Facility expected to be formally launched in the autumn. Civil society was worried about the infrastructure mega-projects too. At the same time observant attendees might have noticed the all-day negotiating sessions on Tuesday of officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). Rumour has it that the meetings were fruitful, with final structures agreed for both the BRICS Bank and the BRICS reserve fund, meaning a formal launch at the BRICS Summit in July.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde had an easy ride in comparison to Kim, as the focus of the week was on displeasure with the United States for its continued failure to ratify reforms to IMF governance. The reforms are long overdue, but US congress has rejected them three times already. Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega, always outspoken, said “the IMF cannot remain paralysed and postpone its commitments to reform.” The agreement of the week was to put harder pressure on the US, with an unprecedented deadline of year end to ratify the reforms, singling out the US. The deadline, as unusual as it was, actually gives the US a full year before serious alternatives can be agreed at the spring meetings in April 2015; however all expectations are that US president Obama will make a deal with US legislatures to get the reforms agreed in time.

With the World Bank restructuring and IMF governance stories dominating the conversation, the brewing economic storm clouds got less discussion. The IMF tried to bask in the limelight for addressing inequality, but that moment seemed to have passed already. Instead the official discussions were focussed on US monetary policy tightening and the potential for this to create volatility or financial crises in other countries. The Fund has upgraded growth prospects, but the last time it gave rosy outlooks, things turned for the worse again in Europe. As the world is still facing high unemployment, deflationary threats in Europe and the possibly of destabilising movements of capital, the idea of returning to “normal” may be more like a mirage.

Finally, civil society remained dissatisfied with their continued relegation to a venue far away from the press and official discussions in the IMF’s main headquarters building.