“The facilitators tried to cut off a presentation by a Bank staff member that had run overtime. The staff member ignored the facilitator and gave the microphone to another Bank colleague who in turn (despite pleas from the facilitators) turned it over to another Bank staff member.”
Report of EIR consultation, Rio de Janeiro, April 2001
NGO participants in a number of World Bank review processes have aired their frustrations about the lack of impact they achieve. Latin American groups who attended the first regional consultation as part of the Bank’s Extractive Industries Review (EIR) complained that their participation in the meeting was “unequal”. They said the World Bank played a “dominant” role, providing information and defining topics in ways which prevented effective civil society engagement.
The NGOs complained that World Bank staff had an “overwhelming presence” at the meeting, crowding out other stakeholders and providing information that was “neither objective nor appropriate for the Review”. The meeting was, for example, framed to discuss whether or not the extractive industries generate wealth rather than “why this wealth is not fairly distributed, does not contribute to economic development, and has not been an effective response to combating poverty in our countries”. For these and other reasons a broader grouping of NGOs wrote a joint letter to the Bank in mid-April saying that “the process remains fundamentally flawed”.
As well as the projects supported by the World Bank Group, activists are again raising concerns about the way that the Bank forces the liberalisation of mining sectors through its sectoral and structural adjustment lending. In a recent statement Oilwatch Africa commented: “international financial institutions, Northern governments and transnational oil and gas companies force African Countries to weaken or abolish laws and regulations on the oil and gas industries and this leads to the violation of community rights”.
The World Bank is currently pushing the same approach in Indonesia. Its briefing to the recent Consultative Group (donors meeting) on Indonesia advocated relaxing restrictions on mineral exploration and extraction in officially protected forests and small islands because “the prohibited areas include a number of potentially rich mining prospects”. The Bank recommends the Government of Indonesia should speed up the passage of the new Energy Law which is currently being rushed through parliament. The new rules open Indonesia’s natural resources to foreign investors and relax local content requirements without any apparent added environmental or social standards being applied.
Meanwhile an international NGO fact-finding team recently visited Tanzania to interview miners, victims’ relatives and police about the mass evictions and killings that took place in the Bulyanhulu mine area in 1996. The team recommended the establishment of “an independent, impartial, transparent and comprehensive inquiry into the allegations of uncompensated mass evictions of miners and mine owners, and killings of miners at Bulyanhulu during the summer of 1996”. The mine is supported by the World Bank Group’s MIGA private sector guarantee facility.
It is not just the EIR which is under fire. Organisations involved in the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI) and World Commission on Dams (WCD) vented their frustrations about similar Bank processes at a meeting in Washington in April. “Many of us have tested the Bank’s sincerity in this era of ‘dialogue’ and have found it woefully wanting,” said Steve Hellinger, president of The Development GAP, a Washington-based NGO.
Citizens’ groups are asking whether participating in Bank-backed review processes are yielding sufficient results, or whether they are distracting NGOs from public campaigning against World Bank policies and projects which harm poor people and the environment. To adapt Shakespeare: “to engage or not to engage, that is the question. Whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous processes, or to protest Bank misdeeds and by opposing end them”.