Wolfensohn meets with Congolese groups

Why are social and environmental safeguards being waived?

26 July 2004

A videoconference was held in July to bring together Congolese organisations, international forest activists and Bank president James Wolfensohn to discuss a Bank-supported forest zoning plan for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The plan will see an area of rainforest the size of France opened up to industrial logging in the coming years.

All sides agreed that the status quo of spiralling illegal logging must not be allowed to continue. The capacity of the Congolese government to regulate is extremely low, emphasising the need for civil society involvement in the drafting of plans for the use of forest resources and in monitoring their implementation. Filip Verbelen of Greenpeace International referred to the implementation of a similar code in Cameroon where “due to corruption in the government, taxes paid by logging companies never make it back to local communities.”

While some organisations are concerned with how to involve NGOs in both the zoning and its implementation, others questioned the approach taken by the Bank. David Kaimowitz of CIFOR expressed fears that “the informal sector which supports the livelihoods of much of the population won’t receive the attention it deserves relative to the question of protected areas and industrial logging.”

taxes paid by logging companies never make it back to local communities

Wolfensohn conceded that the capacity of the DRC government to monitor its commitments in the new code is weak, however “if anyone has a magic formula for eradicating corruption different from our own, I would be more than happy to hear it.”

NGOs have argued that far from a “magic formula”, the least the Bank could do in DRC is implement its own safeguard policies. In a 17 June letter sent by a coalition of Congolese and international NGOs, alarm was expressed that environmental assessments are not being carried out on the majority of loans to the DRC.

Since 2001, the World Bank has approved nearly $1.7 billion in loans and grants to the DRC. The majority of these funds have been classified as emergency recovery loans or as structural adjustment loans. Neither environmental nor social assessments have been applied. The coalition has asked the President what justification was provided to the board of directors to waive safeguard policy requirements given that operation policies state that they “normally apply” to emergency recovery projects. There has been no response from the Bank.