The World Bank and IMF spring meetings in Washington attracted praise from some NGO campaigners and anger from street protesters. Some 75,000 people took to the streets for a peaceful march, including large numbers of people supporting the Palestinian cause as well as many anti-globalisation voices angry about the World Bank and IMF‘s powerful roles in the global economy.
Few of the protesters were aware of the details of the decisions being made in the gleaming office buildings they filed past. Had they been, they might have found their concerns reinforced by a statement from the Development Committee that the World Bank must increase its efforts to work with the World Trade Organisation to help remove obstacles to countries joining the global economy.
On the other hand, ministers acknowledged that the Argentinian crisis has shown that there is “a gap” in the international system which needs to be filled. New approaches for renegotiating the debts of countries which get into financial trouble are under discussion, but there is much disagreement on how this might work (see story, page 6).
Action Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children welcomed the education action plan that the World Bank prepared for the meeting. Ministers also agreed that further steps must be taken on PRSPs. In particular they asked the Bank and Fund to “extend the participatory processes for the elaboration and monitoring of PRSPs and to improve poverty and social impact analysis” of policies to be introduced under PRSPs. Work is underway in both the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development on poverty and social impact assessment approaches. It will be discussed this September at the Bank/Fund annual meetings and at a conference on impact assessment.
Charlotte Denny commented in The Guardian that the progress made on education in Washington this month shows that the Bank can be “part of the solution, not just the problem”. However many protesters, NGO lobbyists and Bank insiders feel that these institutions still need major reform. Economist William Easterly, who recently left the Bank, commented in March in the Washington Post that if Bank money is stolen or wasted “by the time that awareness dawns on the Bank, if it ever does, the Bank employee who made the loan has moved elsewhere in the bureaucracy and is never held to account”.