SAPRIN findings overwhelming, but Wolfensohn tells NGOs to “change their tune”

8 May 2002

Civil society groups put strong pressure on the World Bank before the Spring meetings to push the organisation to take seriously the findings of a joint assessment on structural adjustment. The study, known as the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI), was launched in 1997 as a follow-up to a direct challenge to the Bank’s President, James Wolfensohn, by a global network of NGOs engaged in the ’50 Years is Enough’ campaign.

In a letter dated 9 April 1996, Wolfensohn noted that “policy reform has had a mixed track record… Adjustment has been a much slower, more difficult and more painful process than the Bank recognized at the outset.” After four years of multi-country participatory assessment of IMF and World Bank adjustment programmes, the Bank last year seemed anxious to distance itself from the findings of a process it had previously been heavily involved in (see Bretton Woods Update 24). The assessments are summarized in a report launched before the Spring meetings, The Policy Roots of Economic Crisis and Poverty, drawing conclusions of country studies of adjustment. Countries studied include Bangladesh, Ecuador, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Hungary. The authors are members of the SAPRI Network (SAPRIN). They show that structural adjustment policies “have contributed to the further impoverishment and marginalization of local populations, while increasing economic inequality”.

The Bank long refused to discuss the conclusions of the study. “Wolfensohn wrote us at the beginning of SAPRI that he wanted to learn about the relationship between structural adjustment and poverty and inequality so that the Bank could do business differently”, says Doug Hellinger of The Development GAP, SAPRIN‘s Global Coordinator. “Yet, he and his top management did not even show up to discuss the findings, as agreed, and then dropped out of the process. We hadn’t heard a word from them in over eight months.” Yet after the report made headlines in Europe, Wolfensohn finally requested to meet SAPRIN representatives when they arrived in Washington for the US launch. Wolfensohn acknowledged that he should have met them long before, but dismissed their findings as ignorant of the changes that have occurred during the past years. In a press conference on the eve of the meeting Wolfensohn said: “I wish some of them would change their tune and tell us we haven’t done enough on the next level of things that we are doing, rather than going back to things that were addressed five years ago and to which I think we have been particularly responsive.” He nevertheless asked SAPRIN representatives to give him a few months to study the findings more carefully, before convening another meeting. No doubt the report would be useful input in the Bank review of its operational directive on structural adjustment that is scheduled to conclude this summer.

“For the dozens of countries that have travelled down the adjustment road, the problem is not that the reform process has failed to generate economic benefits. It is that these benefits have tended to be concentrated in a relatively few hands, both domestic and foreign, while millions of other people have increasingly been deprived of the resources and opportunities they require to move out of poverty”.

From the SAPRIN/CASA assessment, ‘The Policy Roots of Economic Crisis and Poverty’, April 2002

SAPRIN report

Bank rejects adjustment findings

Bank Adjustment Lending Policy

Wolfensohn quote