Bank not living up to promises to dialogue

17 January 2002

Two civil society groups have criticised the World Bank for failing to live up to its promise of working more with communities affected by its policies and operations. Major civil society initiatives undertaken by the Bank in recent years have not satisfactorily engaged with their constituencies, say a statement issued jointly by The Development Gap (D’GAP) and the International Rivers Network (IRN) earlier this month.

These initiatives include: the launching of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) which released its findings and recommendations earlier this year on the financing of large dams; the launch of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) as the blueprint for lending in the pooerest countries; the establishment of an Extractive Industries Review to investigate the impact of Bank investments in mining and fossil fuels; and the launching of the Structural Adjustment Review Initiative (SAPRI).

After a review of such initiatives, D’GAP and IRN are concerned that the Bank has been engaging with citizens groups largely for public relations purposes. The concerns, voiced by civil society participants at a meeting in Washington last September, include:

1. The Bank’s backtracking on many of the agreements and commitments made with and to the organisations it has worked with regarding the process and result of the initatives.

2. The Bank’s attempts to control and manipulate consultations with civil society to validate its own position and objectives; and

3. In instances where the Bank is unable to control proceedings, its tendency to demonstrate little interest in the process to avoid implementation.

Patrick McCully of IRN cites the WCD as an example of the Bank’s disengagement from its dialogue with civil society. “The World Bank, as a key sponsor of the WCD, should be actively incorporating the Commission’s findings into its own policies and practices and encouraging others to do so,” McCully said. “Yet the Bank has refused to adopt any of the WCD‘s recommendations into its binding policies and made only vague commitments to follow some of the WCD‘s recommended approaches. The Bank is also misrepresenting or ignoring the Commission’s findings on the Bank’s role in promoting poorly performing and destructive dams.”

Similarly, civil society groups are skeptical of the PRSP process, with many NGOs from developing and least developed countries viewing the participatory aspects of the process seriously flawed. The D’GAP and IRN statement quotes Adds Fantu Cheru, Independent Expert on Structural Adjustment and Foreign Debt for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, saying that PRSPs are meant to be country-driven, prepared and developed transparently with a broad participation of the civil society. However, in reality, they “remain stringent, inflexible and in some instances, punitive, where countries have very little room to manoeuvre,” says Cheru.

Development Group for Alternative Policies (D’GAP)

International Rivers Network (IRN)

Previous Bretton Woods Project articles:

World Commission report has far-reaching implications

Poverty reduction progress assessed