New book examines key Bank accountability mechanism

17 November 2003

A new book considers the track record of an important public scrutiny mechanism introduced by the World Bank ten years ago in response to pressure from campaigners fighting the Narmada dam and other destructive Bank projects. The Inspection Panel, a three-member body, conducts investigations in response to complaints submitted by people who have suffered harm because Bank staff have failed to implement the Bank’s own policies. Between 1994 and 2002 it investigated 28 claims.

The authors – activists and academics with long experience of the Panel – conclude that on balance the Panel “has been remarkably autonomous, and in many cases, the process changed whose voices count, and who listens”. However in many cases Bank management have reacted defensively to Panel claims, probably because of “the Bank’s long-standing culture of impunity”. Specific impacts of the Panel’s work have included project cancellation (the Arun dam in Nepal and the China Western Poverty Project), increased compensation for affected people (Singrauli Thermal Power, India), mitigation of other impacts (Yacyreta dam in Argentina and Paraguay), and reform of project decision-making processes.

While the Panel has mainly been used for cases involving World Bank infrastructure projects, it has also accepted claims relating to sectoral and structural adjustment loans. The authors comment that this “opens up new possibilities for civil society actors to hold the Bank accountable to both its poverty reduction mandate and the negative consequences of its macroeconomic model”.

the process changed whose voices count, and who listens

Demanding Accountability includes case studies of projects in Brazil, Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Chile and India, as well as chapters assessing broad trends across the various claims and the impact on the Bank of the Panel’s operations.