After a relatively quiet year in 2005, the Inspection Panel will move back into the limelight over the coming months as it issues a series of reports and decisions on requests for investigation. The Bretton Woods Project talked with Eduardo Abbott, Executive Secretary of the Panel secretariat about Wolfowitz, the attack on safeguards, and the impact that the Panel is having on the Bank.
BWP: Now that we are approaching the one year mark of the Wolfowitz presidency, what can you say about his impact on your interaction with the Bank?
EA: : The Inspection Panel has a positive relationship with Mr. Wolfowitz. He has been quite open with the Panel and very supportive of accountability more generally. He wrote a paragraph for a new Bank staff guide to the Panel where he describes the Panel as “indispensable to the work and credibility of the World Bank”.
groups get a reaction from the Bank simply by cc'ing the Panel
We have not seen any significant change in the responsiveness of the staff under Mr. Wolfowitz. Some staff members do not agree with the idea of an independent Inspection Panel, some appreciate our contributions to the Bank’s development efforts. Just as before, I guess that it is just as it should be. In any event, in a recent meeting of the Bank’s board of executive directors to discuss the Panel’s report on the of Mumbai Urban Transport Project, Mr. Wolfowitz said “the flaws identified by the Inspection Panel need to be addressed with urgency now. The report proves the worth of the Inspection Panel.”
BWP: Any news about the Pozen report (on accountability, ethics and integrity at the Bank, see Update 47)?
EA: We, like many Bank staff and NGOs, are still waiting to hear what comes of the external review of Bank transparency, accountability ethics and integrity, led by Mr. Robert Pozen.
BWP: NGOs worry that there is a concerted effort to undermine the social and environmental safeguards which underpin the Panel’s work. On the private sector side, many view the IFC’s new performance standards as a weakening of World Bank Group safeguards, and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (the complaints mechanism of the IFC), has cited the IFC’s “institutional discomfort” with its compliance role. Does this translate into a ‘chilling effect’ on the work of the Panel?
EA: No, it does not. We can’t ignore the “environment” in the corridors of the Bank. But it hasn’t changed our work or our relationship with the Bank and its staff. The World Bank is a lender of last resort, and as such, shouldn’t be competing with private banks. As a development institution, it shouldn’t be seen as lowering its standards. But no, these developments are not directly impacting the Panel’s work.
BWP: In fiscal year 2005, there were only 3 requests for investigation, only 2 of which were investigated. Are affected communities finding the application process too difficult, the threshold for investigation too high, or the impact of investigations insufficient?
EA: The number of projects actually investigated is always small. In the twelve years since it was established, only some 40 requests for inspection have been received by the Panel. However, we hope our impact is bigger than these numbers suggest. We receive many unofficial queries. Sometimes groups get a reaction from the Bank simply by cc’ing the Panel on their correspondence with the Bank. This is informal but effective. There is one big project about which request for inspection was widely expected within the Bank, but apparently, after raising the spectre of a Panel request, actions have been taken by management which may now mean that no request will be needed or forthcoming.
After 1999, it became easier to go to the Panel – a community of persons can be represented by only two people who share interests or concerns over the impact of a project. Some may consider this threshold as too low but the fact of the matter is that most if not all requests for inspection received so far have brought to the Panel the concerns of not just a handful of people but rather of entire communities that feel affected by Bank-financed projects. Our problem is still that the Panel is not well known, especially by groups on the ground.
The impact of the recommendations of the Panel varies. It is difficult to generalise about management responses across all the projects we have investigated. It is in our thoughts to do a retrospective look at management responses to Panel recommendations and more broadly the effects on the ground of Panel interventions, including to what extent did the Bank live up to its commitments and what happened in the communities afterwards. In my view this is needed. We have been working on these issues under the direction of our current chair, Edith Brown Weiss, but we lack the resources to complete the task at this time.
BWP: Does the Panel have sufficient resources to carry out its objectives?
EA: The resolution establishing the Panel ensures that the Panel will be given sufficient budgetary resources to carry out its activities. Only once has our annual budget allocation ran out. However, in that year, we received an increase from Wolfensohn’s private budget.
BWP: What would you like to say to civil society organisations about the work of the Panel?
EA: We need more feedback about where we need to go. The Panel is a resource that needs to be fully used. We are sending information about the Panel to Bank public information offices. NGOs in country should let us know if they are not there. Similarly, let us know if there are events where we can send information, or participate in.
Status of current requests
|Project (date request received)||Status|
|India – Mumbai urban transport project (April 2004)||Investigation report discussed at board 28 March 2006. Report available at Panel website and upon request from Panel’s secretariat. See Update 50.|
|Pakistan – National drainage program project (September 2004)||Investigation report being finalised. Publication likely after Cambodia (below).|
|Cambodia – Forest concession project (January 2005)||Investigation report submitted to the board end March 2006. Publication likely in May.|
|DRC – Economic recovery project (November 2005)||Full investigation just underway. Timeline uncertain.|
|Honduras – Land administration project (January 2006)||Board has just approved the investigation recommended by the Panel. Panel’s eligibility report and recommendation available in Panel website and upon request for Panel’s Secretariat.|
|Romania – Mine closure project(January 2006)||Board decision imminent then will publish Panel eligibility report and recommendation.|