Bank governance work examined

11 August 2000

The roles of the World Bank in promoting good governance and democracy are assessed in two new papers. Carlos Santiso, of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Sweden, notes that official agencies have “too often tried to ignore the state and design strategies to circumvent it, rather than reform it”. Now “the strengthening of governance systems and democratic institutions is increasingly considered the missing link which will remedy the failures of past development assistance”.

Santiso finds that the World Bank “remains inhibited by its orthodox economic approach, restrictive mandate and varied constituency”. As World Bank and IMF governance work “is still driven by efficiency concerns rather than governmental legitimacy … there is great confusion on its content and core elements, in particular the intricate links between economic and political reforms”. Santiso finds “particularly worrying” the tendency to use quantitative indicators and abstract methodologies to evaluate the impact and performance of external assistance to democracy and good governance.

Another paper, by Ngaire Woods of Oxford University written for the Global Economic Institutions project, assesses World Bank and IMF moves to become more accountable to multiple stakeholders. Woods critiques the ad hoc way in which the IFIs are adapting to the need to consult widely, and reviews various proposals for achieving fairer representation on their governing bodies and more meaningful engagement with local government and non-governmental organisations around specific projects and programmes.

Democracy Assistance: International Co-operation for Democratization, Frank Cass, London, forthcoming.