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Parliamentarians gear up to increase scrutiny of World Bank

25 March 2002


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A number of efforts are under way to increase the ability of elected representatives to monitor the World Bank. The World Bank’s Parliamentary Network is gearing up for its third annual conference while other parliamentary coordination initiatives are moving forward, as proposed by a French report and the World Social Forum.

The third annual conference of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank will take place in Berne, Switzerland from 9-11 May. The Network is attempting to enter a new phase, particularly in terms of independence and visibility. Bert Koenders, Dutch MP and Chair of the Network, sees the Network as a way for parliamentarians to execute their task of scrutinising the World Bank. Numerous MPs feel they should not be left out of the debate on global governance, while street movements, NGOs and global institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF put across their views. Koenders argues that the “democratic deficit in fact does exist. The prime reason is that parliamentarians lack the information to execute their controlling task. The material is complex and parliamentarians over the world have one thing in common: they have very little time”.

Information is certainly vital, especially since the World Bank sees itself as a “knowledge bank” and as such produces countless reports and discussion papers. What MPs need most to control their government’s relations with the international financial institutions is strategic information on decision-making processes. They are often denied timely access to such information, especially in borrowing countries. Indeed the World Bank Parliamentary Network wants to help push for donor countries’ representatives in the Bank to be interviewed by parliamentarians on World Bank policies. Similarly, the Network will encourage systematic and timely information on World Bank loans and projects reaching borrowing countries’ parliaments.

While ambitions for the network are high, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to achieve true independence from the World Bank. Though the Dutch government has provided most of the funds, the World Bank currently hosts the secretariat and administers the Network’s budget. To achieve its mission, the Network now wants to develop its activities to include more information exchange as well as field visits. These visits, focussing particularly on PRSPs, will include trips to Uganda and Benin this April. They may allow the Network to recruit new members, as it is currently European-dominated. The Network has also participated in the Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, and will engage in preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August.

While the World Bank Network says it is not establishing “another circle of decision-making”, it is unclear how it will coordinate with existing networks. These include the World Parliamentary Forum that now gathers every year during the World Social Forum. Last year it called for “profound reform of the WTO and international financial institutions” and initiated a global parliamentary network which now has more than 1000 members.

In a recent report to the French Commission des Finances, MP Yves Tavernier assesses the state of parliamentary scrutiny of the World Bank in different countries and urges his French colleagues to create a permanent parliamentary delegation to scrutinise the Bank. He says this is needed partly to counter the influence of NGOs who “in every speech, in every press article, are granted a superior form of legitimacy [to parliamentarians]”. The 2000 report of the Commission des Finances criticised the IMF and the World Bank and called for permanent parliamentary monitoring. As National Assembly president Raymond Forni endorsed this call, the 2001 report makes concrete propositions to establish a permanent delegation that would address questions such as:

  • the need for transparency and control of the institutions and member governments;
  • public, independent evaluation of IFI policies and their impact;
  • replacing conditionality with negotiations with recipient countries;
  • the possibility of filing complaints to an arbitration court against violation of fundamental rights by international financial institutions;
  • the need for ex-ante impact studies involving all stakeholders.

Yves Tavernier refers to the US Congress as an example of parliamentary influence on a country’s policy options within the IMF and the World Bank. Unlike the limited efforts of most European parliaments, Congress closely watches and influences US multilateral policies using both legislation and approval of financial contributions.

While NGOs have filled a space left open by elected representatives in the monitoring of international institutions, this should not be seen as a competition for power or legitimacy. On the contrary, there is a strong case for cooperation between parliamentarians and NGOs, especially as MPs complain about the lack of time and information. Indeed most of Tavernier’s comments and propositions on the institutions match what French NGOs such as Agir ici, AITEC and CRID have been advocating for years. US NGOs also play a decisive role in educating and alerting Congress members on complex World Bank issues. NGOs can be a good source of independent information and analysis for MPs wanting to influence the international agenda and hold their governments accountable.

World Bank Parliamentary Network

World Social Forum’s Parliamentary Network

Assemblee nationale (French)

Report by Agir ici, AITEC and CRID (French)