Social services


Unions, NGOs react to report on services

17 November 2003

The World Bank rolled out the latest edition of its flagship annual publication, the World Development Report (WDR), in Dubai in September. Making services work for poor people is a glossy 271-page study on the failure to provide quality education, health and water services for the marginalised. The leitmotiv is accountability, seen as a product of three sets of relationships: between ‘citizens/clients’ and the state; between the state and service providers; and between citizens/clients and service providers.

After considerable revision of the draft, which was widely criticized for overtly advocating private service provision, the final version contains examples supporting the viability of just about any kind of known reform. The report cites everything from successful cases of corporate and community-led service provision to state programmes in Kerala and Cuba.

Despite the smorgasbord of case studies, trade union and NGO commentators perceive an underlying bias towards private provision rather than public reform where services are failing. This raises a fundamental paradox according to Tim Kessler of Citizens’ Network on Essential Services: “the same accountability limitations that make public services fail will almost certainly undermine the effectiveness of private provision and decentralized services.”

a major step away from a World Bank that works for the poor

Three major international organisations representing public sector workers took issue with the report’s portrayal of their colleagues. The “stress on negative examples in the WDR neglects the obvious – that there are vastly more cases where nurses and other health workers produce wonderful outcomes by working together with people.” The Global Campaign for Education called the WDR “a major step away from a World Bank that works for the poor”, saying that the authors had made a “strategic error” in portraying public sector employees as enemies rather than allies. “The vast majority of teachers are desperately trying to do a good job in circumstances that any ‘Western’ teacher would find unimaginable.”

A broadly-shared critique is that the report shies away from the issue of resource constraints and the role that Bank-led structural adjustment measures have played in undermining public support for services. “It must be remembered,” said the International Council of Nurses, “that the current state of public services in many poor countries is largely a result of reforms driven by the World Bank.”

Brendan Martin of Public World believes that the report’s major omission is the global context. “If a shift from clientelist to pro-poor policy commitment were truly the key, the Brazilian government would be focusing more on service delivery and less on preventing capital flight.” This criticism reflects charges heard throughout the drafting process that the report failed to address the implications for service provision of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In response, the final report contains a one-page box penned by Bank trade economist Aaditya Mattoo which concedes that “trade negotiations alone could lead to partial or inappropriately sequenced service reform” – this could spell the transfer of domestic monopolies into foreign hands.

Follow-up to the WDR

There are no plans to seek formal endorsement of the WDR from the Board. Among the elements of on-going work that are emerging are:

  • Regional WDR papers will be produced for East Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean regions for use by staff in the region and in discussions with governments, other donors and CSOs.
  • development of six WBI training modules based on the WDR
  • Production of a ‘Making health services work for poor people’ report that picks up on some of the discussions around the WDR and health
  • a focus on South Asia, where lead author Shanta Devarajan has assumed his new role as Regional Chief Economist
  • work with bilaterals such as DFID, CIDA and others in exploring specific issues:
    service delivery in post-conflict and conflict contexts
    services and HIV/AIDS
    the relationship between governance reforms and services
  • country specific operational support on integrating the WDR framework into CAS, PRSP and PRSC discussions
  • the Bank’s Human Development Forum is WDR focused
  • this year’s Development Marketplace has a WDR theme

During the consultation process, the WDR team committed to have civil society inputs catalogued on a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM, entitled “Other Views” is to be available late this year. Stephen Commins, a member of the 2003 WDR team, said that the number of CD-ROMs distributed would “probably equal the number ‘shipped’ to key officials as well as those sold.”

WDR 2005: Investment climate, growth and poverty

Next year’s WDR, Investment climate, growth and poverty, will be led by Australian Warrick Smith, who has been with the Bank’s Private Sector Development Department (Private Provision of Public Services team) since 1993. According to the draft outline of the report posted 17 November, it will pursue three main areas of inquiry:

  1. What role does the investment climate play in influencing growth and poverty reduction processes?
  2. What are the key features of a sound investment climate?
  3. What might be done to accelerate progress in investment climate reform?

The first phase of the work which is currently coming to a close has involved information gathering through case studies, research and received comments. Phase 2 has begun with the release of the draft outline with a first draft expected in early 2004.