Town hall meeting between civil society and Bank Fund heads

Notes from annual meetings 2004

5 October 2004

Thursday 30 September 2004

Bank president James Wolfensohn, Fund managing director Rodrigo de Rato, South African finance minister and development committee chair Trevor Manuel, and UK chancellor and IMFC chair Gordon Brown, held a town hall meeting with NGOs. It was facilitated by Aruna Rao, director of Gender at Work, and the board chair of Civicus.

The meeting, billed as a “dialogue with civil society organisations” was the second time such an event had been organised in connection with the annual meetings of the Bank and Fund. Both Wolfensohn and Rato emphasised that such a meeting reflected both the Bank and Fund’s commitment to dialogue with civil society.

Issues raised by NGOs included: PRSPs; aid financing; transparency and accountability; concerns for the realisation of the MDGs by 2015; the use of WB/IMF gold reserves for debt alleviation; the inadequate representation of gender in the MDGs; the democratic deficit and parliamentary scrutiny over Bank and Fund activities; and the differing use of conditionality by both the Bank and Fund.

Ndoumbe Nkotto Honore from Cameroon raised the question of why the recommendations of the Extractive Industries Review (EIR) were largely disregarded by the World Bank, in light of the fact that the World Bank had commissioned the review in the first place. In response, Mr Wolfensohn firmly disagreed with the assertion that the World Bank had agreed to only 10 per cent of the EIR recommendations, and claimed that the Bank was working hard to bring more support for renewables. Further, he underlined that it would be wrong for the Bank to withdraw from coal, oil and gas, due to the very significant contribution he said the Bank had made “in terms of environmental standards in oil and gas”.

In response to questions on debt, Gordon Brown indicated that a breakthrough on multilateral debt relief might be possible over the weekend.

A question on the issue of the democratic deficit in IFIs was raised by Marcus Faro de Castro from Rede Brazil, calling for a number of reforms, including the formal approval of strategy documents by national parliaments, and that Executive Directors be accountable to national parliaments. While Trevor Manuel agreed to the importance of “ensuring ownership”, he explained that such a level of accountability in which an ED participates in all parliamentary hearings would be impractical, and cited the example of his constituency, which consists of 21 countries.

Stefan Engelsberger, a representative of bond holders of Argentine debt in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, expressed serious concern over the effects of IMF policies and the policies of G-7 members, and explained that his organization had filed a “constitutional complaint” against the IMF in Germany, as a violation of property rights. The biggest point of contention was Rato’s denial that the IMF advised the creditors to buy Argentine bonds, despite the assertion from Engelsberger that they did so in 2001.

Finally, the question of reparations, raised by Italian NGO Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale speaking on behalf of a representative of the Chixoy communities in Guatemala affected by the dam construction in their area, went largely unaddressed by the speakers. The question proposed that in the context of debt relief, the World Bank should also be addressing the legacy of projects that have had devastating environmental and social consequences for those affected.