World Bank interactions with parliamentarians have been increasing in recent years. They have now developed further, with a critical French parliamentary report and a major World Bank conference with parliamentarians in London.
The World Bank conference brought together 70 parliamentarians from 35 countries, including many who chair key parliamentary committees. It covered issues including the role of civil society, trade talks, debt relief and corruption. This, the second such conference organized by the Bank, established a new World Bank parliamentarians network. This aims to organize field trips and meetings, and exchange information on selected issues.
The Bank says its main motivations for this initiative are to inform parliamentarians, exchange views and foster reflection on global challenges. Some Bank staff would probably be keen to use the parliamentarians network to counter public criticism, promote its lines on key policy debates and drive a wedge between MPs and NGOs. But the London meeting attracted a range of MPs who are clearly not prepared to become a World Bank fan club. Charity Kaluki Ngilu, a Kenyan MP elected to the network’s steering group, described her aims: “MPs can create checks and balances on the activities of the World Bank so that whatever programmes are put in place are people-centred and bottom-up”.
It remains to be seen how the steering group decides to take the network forward, in particular what information will be presented to MPs through the initiative’s website and newsletter. One of the Bank’s intentions in organizing the meetings was “to inform parliamentarians about the Bank’s role in poverty reduction and convey its readiness to share its knowledge resources”. Unless balanced with a good feed of independent material, this objective will worry some MPs. For example Yves Tavernier, Rapporteur to the French parliament’s Commission des Finances, recommended in his recent report that: “the idea of transforming the World Bank into a Knowledge Bank should be opposed”.
The Commission des Finances report is the culmination of increased French parliamentary scrutiny of the Bank and IMF since the Asia financial crisis. When the French government requested more money for the IMF in 1998 the parliament agreed only on condition that the government report each year on its activities in the Fund and Bank. The second such official report was produced by the French Treasury last summer. French NGOs led by Agir Ici, which campaigned successfully to make the report public, welcomed its publication but accused it of being too general and failing to analyse key controversial areas such as structural adjustment impacts. Tavernier’s report, which was strongly endorsed by the Commission des Finances in December, concurred with the NGOs. He noted that “the policies of the IMF and the World Bank are not the only models for development” and that IMF policy recommendations would not be politically acceptable in France. It sets out a number of detailed recommendations.
- the Bank and Fund should limit their missions and respect the roles of UN organizations;
- other ministries, parliamentarians and civil society groups should be involved with the Ministry of Finance in guiding interventions in the institutions;
- a parliamentary delegation to the economic institutions should be created;
- creating systematic coordination of European positions, including enhanced links between parliaments.
Parliamentarians can learn a lot from each other about how best to increase the transparency and accountability of global institutions. For example, some Brazilian parliamentarians, working with NGO network Redes Brasil, have in recent years encouraged the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs to scrutinize public contracts for some external loans. The US Congress has helped secure changes to World Bank procedures, for example on information disclosure. Parliamentary influence can be particularly strong at times when the Bank is requesting more funding for its International Development Association (IDA). Inter-governmental negotiations on IDA are just about to start in earnest, giving an ideal opportunity for MPs to debate the Bank’s effectiveness and future strategies. (R)