IFI governance


Bankspeak of the year 2008

16 February 2009 | Humour

We bring you the annual Bretton Woods Project award for the most incomprehensible, revealing or absurd use of language in a Bank or Fund document or speech. This year’s winners…

Award for creative vocabulary

In a time of financial and economic crises, use of language is no doubt crucial. The wrong comments from a powerful figure could send currencies crashing, banks into bankruptcy or investors fleeing. So all credit goes to the IMF for its creative wordsmithing at the end of 2008. While rich countries such as the US were being urged to use fiscal stimulus to counteract a recession, the IMF programme document for Latvia called for a “negative fiscal stimulus”. Presumably Fund staff figured that in the current climate everyone is in favour of a fiscal stimulus, regardless of the adjective put in front of it.

Award for best slip of the tongue

Civil society has long been critical of the World Bank for its impact on the environment. This was often targeted at the Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which seems to be addicted to extractive industries, energy and infrastructure projects which have massive carbon emissions. Of course the IFC has claimed that one of its “five pillars” focuses on sustainability. Only in 2008 did we finally realise how the IFC defines it. Speaking to a news agency in December IFC chief executive officer Lars Thunell said “We are not in the grant business. We believe in sustainable development, which means that we will try to invest in commercially viable projects.”

Award for absurdity

Our thanks to Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times for finding this amazing use of the English language. She heard: “a World Bank economist who hedged his bets so cleverly it was impossible to know what his view was on anything. As he told the BBC World Service: ‘In our base case simulation there is an upside case that, er, corresponds on the flipside of the downside case in kind of an adverse direction.’”