UK parliament hearings on World Bank, IMF

21 November 2005

The UK all-party committee on international development held its evidence session on the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in October, with evidence heard from the Bretton Woods Project and the Rainforest Foundation, secretary of state for international development Hilary Benn, and representatives of the Treasury.

In their session with civil society representatives, MPs initiated a lively discussion on issues including conditionality, infrastructure, parliamentary accountability, democratisation of the IFIs, and the World Bank’s work on forestry and mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This discussion fed into the MPs questions to government officials, some highlights of which include:

  • In a lengthy discussion of the new UK position on conditionality, Benn was pushed into a corner by John Battle MP on the difference between a ‘condition’ and a ‘benchmark’: “For me the difference between a condition and a benchmark is that a condition is a condition and the release of aid will depend on that. A benchmark is how you measure the progress that a country is making.”
  • On the question of who would assess the use of poverty and social impact assessment, Benn had to admit that he did not know.
  • In response to a question on parliamentary oversight from John Barrett MP, Benn announced that DFID was about to commit £300,000 to the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank to create chapters in western and southern Africa (see Parliamentary initiatives gather steam), and highlighted DFID work in Tanzania and Malawi to increase parliamentary involvement in the PRS process.
  • In response to chairman Malcom Bruce’s call for a debate on the DFID annual report on the World Bank, Benn said he would “reflect upon it”.
  • John Battle MP pressed the Treasury on whether HMG felt there was a macro-economic framework for developing countries that was more suitable than others. Stephen Pickford, director of international finance at the Treasury, hedged his bet, responding that “it is essentially up to the country itself to design and devise its own economic policies”, however the UK “would also have views on whether macro-economic policies were good or not so good.”
  • Joan Ruddock MP asked whether there was “an inconsistency between the lending policies of the international financial institutions and the UK’s own commitment to climate change policies”, pointing out that the World Bank’s support for renewables was a mere six per cent of its energy lending (see World Bank and climate change). Benn responded that “clearly it would be good if there could be faster progress. I agree with you completely about the opportunity to skip the generation of power generation in particular that is very polluting”.

The IDC was on a field visit to Washington and New York in mid-November.