Lack of impact assessments constrains policy choices

6 February 2001

Due to a lack of information on impacts associated with adjustment reforms, there is still no discussion of realistic policy choices and trade-offs in Poverty Reduction Strategies, according to an Oxfam International letter sent to the heads of the Bank and Fund in December.

“Inertia” in taking steps to undertake impact assessments means that “PRGF programmes are being agreed that are not different to ESAFs (see Acronym Bust Box, p.3). In addition, although the Bank is developing a PRSC to provide a more coherent poverty focused framework for its lending and operations, it remains unclear to what extent impact assessments will be conducted.”

Oxfam propose that impact assessments be carried out at the national level by governments on their poverty reduction strategies with separate assessments by the Bank and Fund on their own respective programmes. The IFIs’ assessments ought to be made publicly available at least six months in advance of annual reviews or loan approvals to ensure that time is available for public discussion.

The Bank may soon begin discussions on ex ante impact assessments but it is not known what outside consultation there will be nor which Bank department will be responsible. Attention also needs to be given to improving ex post assessments. The Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department reviews all completed programmes but these reports are not made public, whilst the IMF does not produce a formal assessment. “While the commitment to do prior analysis of adjustment lending is encouraging” observes Karen Joyner, Christian Aid, “we should not lose sight of the importance of evaluations of actual impacts later on.” Open debate around what works will ensure better design of programmes and will give local communities more real issues to discuss, she explains.

Another aspect important to impact assessment and monitoring is whether stakeholders have access to documents which detail the conditions to be imposed on governments in exchange for loans. US, UK and Ghanaian NGOs are circulating a letter calling for an end to World Bank and IMF secrecy regarding structural adjustment conditionality. The letter will be sent to the World Bank and IMF Boards in early April. Groups can co-sign the letter until March 23.

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