Surveys show tough views on Bank and Fund

15 March 1999

Respondents to two recent surveys revealed widespread continuing mistrust of Bank and Fund approaches. A worldwide opinion poll for The Economist recorded only one person in twenty as having “a lot of confidence” in the IMF, while forty percent do not have much confidence at all in it. The Bank’s results were similar: four people think little of the Bank for every one who has a lot of confidence. Incredibly, those polled believed the US was more capable of sorting out world economic problems than are the multilateral institutions established to do so.

The second poll – commissioned by the Bank itself to survey “key audiences” in donor countries – showed that the pendulum has swung back from those who claimed that public agencies such as the Bank were no longer needed in an era of private sector development. Whilst accepting a role for the Bank, however, respondents were concerned that the “Washington Consensus” still dominates policies and priorities and that:

Bank’s traditional economic emphasis (with its focus on market liberalization and structural adjustment) is no longer perceived as an adequate strategy for confronting poverty around the world”.

Indeed many respondents accused the Bank of:

“excessive bureaucracy, arrogance and inflexibility … and a single-minded, myopic focus that approaches complex situations with a simplistic economic orientation”.

Many also identified the Bank’s tendency to expand its remit into all areas, causing confusion and little obvious contribution to poverty reduction. Economic crisis management and private sector development support were cited as areas which should be dropped or downplayed.

However, the survey concluded that people were now exposed to far more information about the World Bank and that a clear majority felt that conditions in developing countries would be significantly worse if the Bank were to close.

In conclusion the consultants advised the Bank to:

harder to clarify its commitment to poverty alleviation – both by streamlining its formal priorities to exclude problematic emphases (eg promoting global values) and those more appropriately addressed by other organisations (ie financial stabilization), and by clarifying the importance of related objectives (eg environmental sustainability) as contributors to poverty alleviation.”

In its communication work the Bank is urged to stress that it contains more than just economists and is controlled by more than one country.

Sources: The Economist, 2 January 1999.

The World Bank: a Study of Donor Nations’ Perceptions, Summary Report, ARC Consulting, 1998.