Social services


No pain, no gain: WDR 2004 on services

26 November 2002

A 60-page draft outline of the World Development Report 2004, ‘Making Services Work for the Poor’, was released in October for comment. Observers have commended the Bank for placing such a substantial document in the public domain for consultation early on in the drafting process. However, a number of serious concerns were raised by participants at a 6 November public consultation in London, one of a series of such meetings to be held around the world into January 2003.

An overarching fear expressed by participants was that the document was biased against public service provision. Brendan Martin of Public World, asked “why the coyness about calling these services what they are? public services.” Striking in its absence from the list of alternatives for improving public service provision is reform of the public sector. Public sector employees are often portrayed in the outline in a negative light, while similar flaws in both private sector and community actors are downplayed. According to Martin, there is a fundamental distinction to be made between providing services for the poor, which implies two-tiered provision, and providing universal access.

Carolyn Stephens of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, took issue with the Report’s analytical framework. The actor-oriented approach employed by the authors conceives service delivery as a series of relationships among providers, clients, policy-makers, and (in the case of low-income countries) donors. Service failures viewed through this lens lack sufficient contextual analysis, particularly of power relations between actors. The framework risks over-simplification – an individual may be both a client and provider, a donor may be a government, an NGO or a community – resulting in a one-size-fits-all answer.

Participants objected to the Report’s failure to acknowledge the part played by the Bank in rolling back the state and privatising services. Not surprisingly then, the WDR takes inadequate funding for public services as its point of departure, and shies away from estimating the required level of public resources needed to deliver quality services for all.

The Report is silent on the ramifications of the Bank’s work on negotiations of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Currently, GATS does not apply to services “supplied in the exercise of governmental authority”. However, a service is so classified only when it is “supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers.” By arguing for competition in service sectors, the Bank may be subjecting them to the GATS disciplines, and undermining developing countries’ negotiating positions – -a concern articulated by a number of developing countries in a council for trade in services special session of the WTO.

It is not yet clear to what extent the Bank will change its approach to the report in light of the critical comments received at this and other meetings. But it is rumoured that the Bank has succumbed to lobbying to include energy as well as the existing sectors of water/sanitation, health and education.

Many people question whether the World Bank can adequately and objectively deal with the complex and political issues raised in public service reform. The WDR team hopes to continue to discuss the report’s content with civil society groups and other development agencies. An internal draft of the report will be ready in January and a draft for public consultation by early February.

“JDW* has said he wants a WDR that causes internal pain.”

– Steve Commins, WDR 2004 team member

* Bank president James D. Wolfensohn

WDR 2004 draft outline, World Bank, October 2002

WDR meeting notes, Bretton Woods Project

The US on the World Stage: Reshaping Development, Finance and Trade Initiatives, Citizens Network on Essential Services, November 2002

Assessment of Trade in Services, Communication from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal and Zambia