The quality of Bank country assistance strategies (CASs) has improved in the last two years, concludes a recent Bank review. The review assessed the coverage, content, and quality of CASs approved in fiscal years 97 and 98.
It found that most CASs provided substantive coverage of the country context and government agenda including more explicit treatment of Bank-borrower policy differences, and that all CASs were prepared in consultation with governments and increasingly with civil society. It suggests that governments be encouraged to seek wide participation in the CAS process and proposes that, following board discussion, the government should be allowed to publish the CAS (previously forbidden because it is a Bank-owned document). If governments agree, the Bank may also produce Public Information Notices summarising countries’ economic and social situations, and the Bank’s strategy.
Looking at the content of CASs the report concluded that:
- “CASs are not sufficiently selective”, identifying too many areas as priorities.
- poverty reduction analysis has improved, with 50% of CASs including “satisfactory or good” treatment of poverty, rising from 20% in FY96 and early FY97;
- gender, environment and governance issues should be treated in CASs only where they constitute key development constraints;
- most CASs addressed financial sector issues insufficiently;
- one-third of FY97 CASs and two-thirds of early FY98 CASs, compared with almost none before, discussed social, political economy and institutional capacity constraints. Eleven CASs will pay special attention to social development issues in the next year.
- there has been improved strategic coordination between the Bank, the IFC and MIGA. Countries will be classified into three groups according to the relative priority for private sector development and scope for active Bank/IFC collaboration. They will either have a joint CAS with a Private Sector Strategy annex or a CAS prepared jointly by Bank and IFC staff;
- most CASs included base, low and high case lending scenarios for Bank support and the triggers for accessing higher funding levels. Most triggers were macro/fiscal, followed by structural reform and portfolio performance. Poverty reduction indicators should be included for IDA countries.
Lessons from completed CASs should inform the preparation of the next CAS, for example by ensuring that Country Assistance Reviews and Country Assistance Notes are carried out before new CASs are prepared. The development of specific, easily monitorable and operationally meaningful progress indicators will be encouraged – with CASs for nine countries selected as pilots. Bank evaluations will be complemented by client and stakeholder surveys.
As CASs are taking longer and costing more to produce the Bank wants them in future to be implemented over 4-5 years, in line with electoral cycles, rather than over three years as now. Interim progress reports will also be prepared.
The Bank will revise the CAS Guidelines and issue a new best practice statement.
Country Assistance Strategies: Retrospective and Outlook , World Bank 1998, available from the World Bank or the Bretton Woods Project.