World Bank-IMF annual meetings 2006

Civil society boycott, governments feud over corruption and votes

20 September 2006

A comprehensive calendar of events, contact information for groups in Singapore and Batam, and links to documents released by civil society are available on IFIwatchnet.

The annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF in Singapore faced a storm of controversy over the participation of civil society. As well as its usual ban on outdoor demonstrations, the government of Singapore refused entry clearance to 27 civil society representatives accredited by the World Bank. As the meetings got under way, it detained or deported at least a further two dozen, many of whom were on their way to the civil society conference on alternatives to the international financial insitutions on the nearby Indonesian island of Batam. There was also pressure on police authorities on this island to cancel the conference. This led more than 160 civil society organisations to declare a boycott of the World Bank and IMF’s official agenda as a protest over the institutions’ lack of commitment to full participation by civil society.

Boycott call

The boycott call was issued after civil society representatives were barred from entry to Singapore. As the meetings started, it became clear that Singapore was targeting more than just the 28 people initially believed to be on its “blacklist”, as campaigners from Vietnam, India, Philippines, Brazil and other locations were detained at the airport, questioned and then deported. The statement says “The IMF and World Bank cannot escape responsibility for recent developments. Knowing full well the authoritarian character of the Singaporean Government, they appear to have picked Singapore as the site of their Annual Meetings because they wanted to avoid the legitimate and peaceful street protests that have been staged at earlier World Bank-IMF and World Trade Organization meetings.” It goes on to declare, “In solidarity with those denied entry into Singapore and denied the exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association, we will stay away from all meetings and seminars in the official programme at the World Bank and IMF 2006 annual meetings in Singapore.” The Bretton Woods Project has joined the boycott.

See the boycott call. A full list of boycott signatories can be found on the Eurodad website.

Entry barred

Citing security concerns and the threat to law and order, the Singaporean authorities contacted 20 indivduals from five organisations on 7 September to inform them that they would not be allowed to enter Singapore in advance of or during the meetings. The individuals from Europe and Asia were all issued accreditation by the World Bank to participate in the civil society seminars that occur alongside the official meetings of the Bank and Fund. Despite the individuals having been cleared by the Bank and their own governments’ representatives to the Bank, the Singaporean authorities were steadfast in their refusal to allow them entry. The number of banned individuals was later increased to 28, though the full list was never released publicly.

The Bank and Fund issued a press release saying that they were taking up the cases of the banned individuals with the Singapore government. Despite reports that the memorandum of understanding between the institutions and the Singapore government indicated that the authorities would issue visas to all accredited delegates to the meetings, the Bank was not prepared to pursue legal redress for the violation of the agreement, or postpone the meetings. While many national governments, including Finland in its capcaity as the president of the European Union, made representations to the Singapore government, their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

For more information please see the press releases issued by several civil society organisations:
http://www.crbm.org/modules.php?name=browse&mode=page&cntid=577 (Italian)

Peoples Forum threatened

To coincide with the official meetings, dozens of convenors organised a parallel conference on the Indonesian island of Batam, just 45 minutes from Singapore by ferry, to discuss alternatives to the international financial institutions. The International Peoples Forum vs the World Bank and IMF also felt the security squeeze from Singapore, as it is reported that the authorities pressured the local police in Batam to cancel the conference, which expected more than 700 delegates from 45 countries.

At the beginning of September, the head of the local Indonesian police district announced that he would not allow the event to go forward. After a tense few days and much lobbying by the organisers of the conference, in particular the International Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), secured the approval of the national authorities and a permit for the event. The forum went ahead despite threats from local business interest groups in Batam to sideline the event. Workshop topics included: a day on issues specific to Indonesia, illegitimate debt, corruption, climate change, private banks and post-conflict reconstruction. The forum served as the venue for the official launch of the civil society boycott.

For more information please see the IPF web site

CSOs protest lack of voice

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a global coalition of development campaigners, made the first significant use of the confined space set aside for protest inside the convention centre in Singapore. Campaigners donned masks that read “No Voice” and stood in silence to protest against the lack of voice for developing countries and to launch the GCAP month of action. Meanwhile at the ‘town hall’ meeting with World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, civil society representatives staged a dramatic walk-out when they received inadequate answers to their questions about the Singaporean authorities’ actions taken against civil society.

Webcast of the Town Hall meeting

IMF: Shrink it or sink it!

Focus on the Global South hosted a conference on shrinking or replacing the IMF 17 September in Singapore. The conference went ahead despite the Singapore government initially refusing entry for all staff of hosts Focus on the Global South. The event opened with a press conference featuring two of the ‘blacklisted’ CSO participants who had returned to Singapore the night before. Antonio Tricarico of CRBM Italy and Jenina Joy Chavez of Focus on the Global South denounced both the Bank and Fund and the Singaporean government for what they said amounted to an “egregious violation of the rules of international diplomacy”. Subsequent panels discussed the principles and institutions of an alternative international financial system.

For more information see Focus on the Global South

World Bank energy policy under scrutiny

A report published by international environment and development non-governmental organisations, including the Bretton Woods Project, concluded that the World Bank’s promise to seriously support alternative energy sources remains unfulfilled. It coincides with the World Bank’s own progress report of its clean energy investment framework which was up for discussion at the Development Committee meeting.

The World Bank’s Investment framework is a response to a mandate from the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Its stated aims are to increase access to energy in developing countries, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, and assist developing countries to adapt to climate change. NGOs counter that the World Bank’s new investment framework on clean energy and development will not be effective at combating climate change and expanding energy access for the poor. The World Bank proposes raising $10 billion for conventional energy technologies, while selling renewable sources of energy short and promotes coal-fired power, nuclear power and large hydropower projects.

These organisations are calling on the World Bank, international financial institutions and governments to:

  • end public subsidies for fossil fuel projects;
  • step up efforts to meet the basic energy needs of the poor; and
  • redirect existing dirty energy financing to renewable technologies and energy efficiency projects via a new Renewable Energy for Development Agency

Pantoro Tri Kuswar, one of the reports co-authors from Friends of the Earth Indonesia/Walhi said “Poor communities in developing countries are already paying the highest prices of climate change, living with the impacts of heavy droughts and floods. The World Bank’s focus on fossil fuel projects will not bring electricity to the poor, but rather lead to more pollution, conflict and corruption and do little to stop climate change”.

For a copy of the report see How the World Bank’s energy framework sells the climate and poor people short

Tarnished Gold

Civil society organisations, including the Bretton Woods Project, released a briefing paper which details social and environmental problems at gold mines supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private financing arm of the World Bank. The report coincides with the 50th (or golden) anniversary of the IFC. It challenges the most common claims made by the IFC to prove that its mining projects are reducing poverty and improving people’s lives, in light of the detrimental environmental and social impacts of case studies in Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Guatemala.

It calls on the IFC to report on development impacts on a project-by-project basis. Currently it only reports the poverty reduction and development impcats of the projects it finances on an aggregate, institution or sector-wide basis. Nikki Reisch, from the US NGO Bank Information Centre stated “unlike profits and losses in a financial portflio, poverty reduction, environmental damage, and impacts on individuals and communities can not be averaged across the IFC’s portfolio. A farmer who loses his land near a mine in Peru does not benefit when a small business owner in central Europe gets a catering contract with a mining company.”

For a copy of the report see Tarnished gold: mining and the unmet promise of development

Civil society dialogues

The World Bank, the Fund and civil society organisations co-organised a set of seminars and dialogues alongside the annual meetings. Note that some events were cancelled in the wake of the Singaporean government’s ‘blacklisting’ of nearly two dozen accredited civil society representatives and the ensuing boycott. As a result of our participation in the boycott, the Bretton Woods Project was unable to report from these meetings.

WB-IMF formal agenda

16 Sept: G24 ministers’ meeting and G7 finance ministers’ meeting

Highlights of the G24 communiqué

  • On IMF governance reform: The current proposal “does not adequately address the fundamental issue of the underrepresentation of developing and low-income countries as groups.” The G24 communiqué demands: at least a tripling of basic votes; reform of the quota formula to “take into account GDP at purchasing power parity, as well as countries’ vulnerabilities to commodity price fluctuations, capital flows, and other exogenous shocks”; and “additional alternate executive directors and senior advisors for chairs with the largest constituencies.” In her statement on behalf of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Felisa Miceli, the Argentine economy minister found it “particularly worrisome” that “no commitment was reached regarding the capping of advanced economy countries to their present levels of representation”. Miceli was also vocal about the Fund’s policy prescriptions in low-income countries, calling for the Fund to both comply with domestic labour legislation and consult with the ILO before requesting additional flexibility;
  • On a new contingent credit facility: The facility “must allow automatic and upfront drawings” with “no conditionality associated with the new facility beyond maintaining macroeconomic stability and reducing vulnerabilities”.
  • On the Bank’s anti-corruption efforts: The Bank “should not disengage from supporting its members, so as not to penalize the poor” and needs to “delineate more clearly the aspects of governance that are within the Bank’s mandate”.
  • On IMF surveillance: The G24 supports “a more proactive surveillance role” for the IMF, :”particularly through the recently initiated multilateral consultation exercise”.
  • On debt relief: The G24 calls on the donor countries “to provide the necessary resources to extend the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative to all LICs.”

17 Sept: International Monetary and Financial Committee

Highlights of the IMFC communiqué

  • On IMF governance reform: While the communiqué had to await “adoption of the resolution”, the following day the IMF’s board of governors approved the governance reform resolution which included an ad-hoc increase for four countries and a commitment to increase basic votes and adjust the quota formula within two years. See Bretton Woods Project press release. The IMFC called on the managing director to provide a status report at the spring meetings 14 April 2007 in Washington.
  • On crisis financing: The IMFC called for further work on the design of a new instrument (a replacement to the Contingency Credit Line) and a concrete proposal by the time of the spring meetings.
  • On other issues: The IMFC expects reports on division of responsibilities between the World Bank and IMF, and sources of IMF income. They urged “further efforts to accelerate growth to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals”. Creditors and borrowers were urged to use the IMF-World Bank debt sustainability framework in their lending and borrowing decisions.

18 Sept: Development Committee

Highlights of the Development Committee communiqué

  • On ‘good governance’: This was the big battleground of this year’s annual meetings. The communiqué questioned the value of the Bank’s good governance indicators (the Country Policy and Institutional Assessments, see Bretton Woods Project article on the CPIA), calling on the Bank “to further develop and use disaggregated and actionable indicators”. The board took control of the agenda back from president Wolfowitz, stressing “the importance of Board oversight of the strategy as it is further developed”. Hilary Benn, UK development secretary, was seen to play a key role, withholding £50 million from the UK contribution to the Bank, pending evidence of further progress in reducing conditionality. This was seen by most observers as a snub to president Wolfowitz over concerns that his anti-corruption agenda would amount to significantly increased conditionality, or a cutting-off of aid to the poorest countries where corruption is a serious problem.
  • On middle income countries: The committee welcomed the Bank’s paper on its activities in middle-income countries. This included “more flexible country partnership strategies”, increasing lending to sub-national governments, and reducing the cost of doing business with the Bank by “streamlining internal Bank procedures”. The committee called on the Bank to develop financing instruments which mix concessional donor support with Bank financing.
  • On clean energy: After heated debate, wherein some countries such as Korea described the Bank as not up to the task of providing financing to combat climate change, the Bank was asked to work in closer coordination with the Global Environment Facility in its continuing work on financing options to support investment in clean energy.
  • On education: The Bank was urged to strengthen its work on measurement of learning outcomes, which came in response to an IEG report which found that the Bank was failing to improve learning in its education programmes (see Bretton Woods Project article on the IEG report). A progress report is to be provided to the board on this point, though no deadline was specified. A call was made for “predictable and long-term funding” for the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative.

19 – 20 Sept: Plenary sessions