Parliamentarians from eight countries travelled to Washington to present the international parliamentarians’ petition demanding greater oversight of the operations of the IFIs. Tony Worthington, UK MP and Austin Mtukula MP Malawi presented the petition, signed by over 1000 parliamentarians in over 50 countries to Ian Goldin, World Bank vice-president for external affairs and Tom Dawson, his counterpart at the IMF. President Wolfensohn and Managing Director de Rato turned down an invitation to accept the petition.
In the two-hour workshop which followed the handover of the petition, MPs highlighted instances of IFI infringement of parliamentary sovereignty. Tony Worthington made clear that parliamentarians, unlike international civil servants, “have to live with the consequences” of policy reforms and think about “what will this do to the people [they] represent”. Drajad Wibowo, Indonesian MP, cited electricity, oil and gas laws driven by IMF conditions which had been implemented by the executive only to be later overturned by constitutional courts. He supported the IFIs new focus on corruption, but questioned their pressure for the sale of state assets “without adequate parliamentary scrutiny”.
Mario Cafiero, Argentine MP, decried a situation where parliaments rubber-stamp “measures pre-approved in letters of intent with the IMF”. In 2002, after the Argentine crisis, the IMF pushed for the repeal of a penal code law which would have seen foreign banks investigated for their role in Argentine debt swaps. Today, he said, the IMF was pushing the government to overturn laws on debt repayment.
many of the MPs left the workshop frustrated
Jean-Francois Rischard, World Bank vice-president for Europe, avoided responding directly to the MPs points. He told the MPs that he was “very passionate” about the topic of parliamentary scrutiny. He agreed with the spirit and main principles of the international parliamentarians’ petition, going as far as to say that he “would make it stronger”. He claimed that there had been a “revolution” in the Bank in the “last few years”, saying that 85 per cent of country staff reported meeting with parliamentarians on a regular basis. Sixty to seventy per cent of countries involve parliamentarians in PRSP approval, and it is “routine” to involve them in approval of country assistance strategies.
Rischard emphasised World Bank Institute efforts to “train parliamentarians about how to improve their oversight role”. He claimed that the parliamentary network on the World Bank (PNoWB) is the place where parliamentarians can address their concerns. At a recent meeting of the donor countries in PNoWB in Naples, a comparative study was initiated of parliamentary scrutiny.
Tom Dawson seconded the comments of his colleague from the World Bank, and highlighted Fund efforts to establish a wide range of parliamentary capacity building programmes, particularly in the transition countries and Africa. He pointed to the appointment of Rodrigo de Rato – a former member of the Spanish parliament – as a positive sign for the future. He added that he was pleased to hear civil society representatives emphasising parliamentary involvement, since the IMF had “shifted its outreach efforts to parliamentarians”.
The second section of the workshop focused on positive steps which had been taken to improve parliamentary scrutiny. Senator Francesco Martone from Italy called for positive incentives for increasing parliamentary involvement and for the World Bank and IMF to disseminate information in a timely and effective fashion. He called for other countries to regularise the practice of executive directors reporting to parliaments, and for government departments in the north which liaise with the IFIs to draw up medium-term plans with objectives to which civil society could hold them to account. He emphasised that parliaments were “the beginning, but not the end of democratic accountability”; accordingly, monitoring should involve CSOs, trade unions and other representative bodies. Finally, he called for parliamentarians to demand that they be included in official delegations to the spring and annual meetings of the institutions.
Ivan Valente, Brazilian MP, described a visit to Brazil by the IMF’s Anne Kreuger where she “told president Lula which policies would be best to adopt”. Valente told the group that those policies would “serve as a counter-reform”. In response to such pressure, Valente described the work of a ‘parliamentary front’ on the IFIs which works to ensure the observance of a constitutional requirement that all letters of intent and country assistance strategies have to appear before parliament. The group had introduced a bill to see that Brazilian representatives to the IFIs are vetted by congress and accountable to them.
Facilitator Smithu Kothari, professor at Princeton University, concluded the meeting by drawing out five points.
- Pursue convergence of work in multiple forums on scrutiny of the IFIs;
- Recognise the role of other social actors to ensure a deepening of what we understand by democracy;
- Ensure that there is an open debate on the multiple paths to development;
- Change the culture of IFI staff, often “unapproachable and arrogant”, to respect and internalise the democratisation process; and
- Mainstream the evolving international human rights framework, ensuring that all institutions comply.
Many of the MPs left the workshop frustrated that neither the Bank nor the Fund conceded any responsibility for the lack of parliamentary scrutiny. They expressed their commitment to continue to spread support for the petition, and to work from the national level to change the relationships with the IFIs.