Civil society groups in Bangladesh and Pakistan have rejected the PRSP process in their countries. They complain about flawed participation and persistent IMF and World Bank influence on the content of the documents.
A civil society coalition formed in Bangladesh to challenge the PRSP process complains that the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper published last June was developed by a bureaucratic taskforce. Members of the coalition say the consultations carried out by “corporate NGOs” were rushed and partial, ignoring for example landless people who represent more than 50 per cent of the population. They have successfully campaigned to postpone the September 2002 deadline for a final PRSP, thanks to more than 90,000 letters sent to the Bank, the IMF and the government.
But the Bank repeated its pressure on the government to adopt a “faster pace on reform”, and the PRSP process is expected to be complete before the Spring Meetings of the Bank and Fund. According to Ziaul Hoque Mukta of Action Aid Bangladesh, “recently the IFIs have exerted tremendous pressure to implement further structural adjustment measures”. In a statement at the Annual Meetings of the Bank and Fund last September, the finance minister of Bangladesh warned that “further reforms are not likely to be socially acceptable unless additional resources for safety net, investment in physical infrastructure and human resources development could be mobilized.”
Civil society organisations feel their demands for a transparent route map for the PRSP process and adequate participation have been ignored. Rather than participate in what they see as a flawed official process they have launched a parallel consultation process in 41 districts (three times more than the official process), which they hope will eventually influence the content of the poverty reduction strategy.
Donors heavily influence current public policies in Bangladesh. They gather every year under the auspices of the World Bank and the IMF for the ‘Bangladesh Development Forum’, officially to “provide the donor community an opportunity to hear the Government’s development priorities and to learn about Bangladesh’s future strategic directions”. Others see this as a symbol of the country’s financial dependence forcing it to bow to an externally imposed reform agenda. This year’s Forum will be held in Dhaka (it usually takes place in Paris) on 16-17 May.
Pakistan PRSP undemocratic
For reasons very similar to their colleagues in Bangladesh, Pakistan’s civil society groups “reject the PRSP, both as a process and its content”. They question why the Interim PRSP says it is based on broad participation while many groups are still only discovering its existence. In a letter to the Ministry of Finance they say that the PRSP process has “undermined democratic political processes” and that the document reflects a vision largely inspired from existing IFI prescriptions. “The entire PRSP process has simply reinforced a previously tried and failed policy paradigm […] Under the guise of poverty reduction, the IFIs are lending support to an undemocratic process designed primarily to ensure that the basic neo-liberal policy paradigm is allowed to flourish unhindered”.
The IMF and the Bank usually reply to such concerns that it is early days for PRSP processes and they will take time to bear fruit. But common, worrying patterns seem to emerge both on participation and content (see Bretton Woods Update 28-30). The IMF‘s Independent Evaluation Office and the Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department will carry out a joint evaluation of the PRSP exercise this year. They will have to assess to what extent this approach has allowed the development of nationally-decided, extensively-debated policies or if they have mainly built ‘ownership’ around the core policies to which the Bank and the IMF say there is no alternative.
Making the case for Bangladesh, Washington Post
Limits of Asian PRPs revealed, Bretton Woods Update 27
Sri Lanka rushing reforms to please IMF, WB, Bretton Woods Update 30 and Sri Lanka CSOs letter
Assessing Participation in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers: A Desk-Based Synthesis of Experience in Sub-Saharan Africa