IFI governance


Making global governance accountable: civil society experiences with 13 Institutions

10 October 2012 | Minutes

Sponsor: Centre for the Study of Globalization and Regionalization (CSGR), University of Warwick

This session discussed the conclusions reached on the global governance role of civil society by the Civil Society and Accountable Global Governance project. This project looked at the record of civil society engagements of the IMF, the World Bank and 11 other global institutions.

Panel Jan Aart Scholte (JS) – University of Warwick) Sheela Patel (SP) – Slum Dwellers Internationa Jo-Marie Griesbager (JG) –  New Rules for Global Finance Karla Chaman (KS) – International Monetary Fund John Garrison (JG) – World Bank


Jan Aart Scholte

This is a long-running project examining how civil society engages with 13 global institutions, including: International Financial Institutions, WTO, UN, Internet corporation, the World Fair Trade Association, OECD, G8, the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria, the Climate Change regime.

Hence health, environment, global security etc were considered in terms of how civil society engages with it, in order to see how far civil society realizes its promise to be an agent of global democratic accountability.

Given increasing global governance, we need to consider how it is made accountable. In nation states, we know how democratic accountability works, e.g. via political parties, elections of the executive and ultimately if we don’t like what they do we can kick them out. However we lack global parliaments, elections etc, hence democratic accountability nationally does not work globally.

Therefore some people say that we lack accountability and need civil society to provide some of the required democratic accountability – and we asked, does it work?

We considered four dimensions; transparency, consultation, monitoring, redress

  • Transparency means that if a global governance agency is to be answerable, it must be visible to those it impacts. Things have changed enormously in this regard, especially at the Fund where no internal organogram was available as recently as the mid 90s.
  • Consultation means, ideally that the whole way through the policy and decision process you take into account the views and needs of those impacted.
  • Monitoring means civil society has to ‘watch’ and check if organizations do what they say they will do.
  • Redress relates to what happens when something goes wrong, e.g. so that someone pays for mistakes via financial redress, resignations and so on, so that you account for your mistakes and your successes.

Does civil society provide these roles with global institutions?
We attained 5 overall findings.  (notes of results are available)

  • Civil society is involved, and does have an impact
  • Civil society has had more success in some institutions than others, e.g. in the Commonwealth, the Global Fund it is highly involved, as opposed to the IMF or the WTO
  • On the whole, democratic accountability effects of civil society are not as much as you might hope for, it is not overcoming the deficit entirely – so far it is not an adequate solution – this raises the question of whether we need other instruments of accountability, more CS, or both?
  • CSOs rarely achieve accountability on their own, but via parliaments, media, sympathetic governments and so on.
  • Though civil society enhances accountability, it must be asked ‘accountability for whom?’, e.g. of the South, or North, or men or women, or professional classes or under-classes? So far, civil society engagement tends to favour already more powerful circles in global politics, so the former in each of those dichotomies, especially relative to grassroots social movements. The question of ‘who is not there?’ must still be asked. Additionally, accountability for what end must also be asked. Is it to help entrench institutions that are failing to do the job we wish them to do, or is it to reform institutions, or is it to undermine the institutions as alternatives are required. These findings are related to transparency above all.

Jo-Marie Griesgraber

There is no ‘supposed to’, nor single voice. We have free speech, everyone has the right and responsibility to speak, and sometimes we coalesce, we also fight with each other.

There is a democratic deficit, and I support the thesis that the poorest and marginalized are not at the table. My approach to politics is twofold: 1) follow the money and 2) who wins, and loses? If someone is out of the room, they’re getting screwed and people will not have their rights protected. However you can’t get everyone in the room.

What has civil society accomplished? For a start, we have transformed international law. Normally it relates to nation states, and though it’s the weakest aspect, it exists. For example, the formulation of human rights. Legally, the international organizations are not accountable to individuals, but rather to their governments who in turn are signatories of treaties such as the universal declaration of human rights.

If international bodies abuse people’s rights, they should be held accountable and can be, though usually aren’t. How to improve civil society performance and bring in the voices of those affected. The individuals are the grass roots and form from the ground up, and though it may be the view of people like Jan Aart that this is ideal, it’s not necessarily true or practical. Somebody has to delegate, and hence governments exist, with a right and responsibility to speak for and represent their people, who in turn must hold them accountable if their rights are being violated.

Rarely is it easy for citizens to hold their own governments to account. One is claiming citizenship as individuals, exercising the responsibility to speak and to pay taxes. Withholding is a key part of accountability. You can also feel empowered because you can say to yourself ‘I pay this senator’s salary’. The third aspect is international organizations – we have modified our language to be accountability and responsibility. The former is to follow the rules of authority, for example the IMF board who is accountable to no one, are wimps and though they have responsibility they don’t exercise it or take it. The executive board of the IMF is the IMF, but they wait for management to tell them what to do. Then there is the responsibility term, which is being responsible for the consequences of your actions. Usually we can punish you, or fire you somehow.

In the EU, subsidiarity shows that you must solve the problem at the lowest level possible, and that should be a model of global democracy. When international processes impact your lives, then you must work on it there. Basic education is thus a key element, and though civil society may not do basic education.

If in a hierarchy of need, someone who subsists may not know or care about the IMF for example. Other people, who are better off, educated, and secure, have a corresponding right and responsibility to act, but also to try and get the voices of the impacted. For example, the FSB – which makes the IMF look transparent – it is making decisions about people’s lives. Who will find out about it, and how do we translate their actions into impact and daily life? Given their highly technical groups, we got examples of their documents which were very valuable because the papers were very poor, and when exposed it caused the paper to be re-written and improved.

John Garrison

I want to make four points. I work very closely with two authors of the report. This also came out of the committee chaired by CIVICUS, and this paper is one outcome. The report came up with four regimes: compliance, consultations, technocratic, economic capital. In the World Bank, the compliance regime has improved. Consultation has advanced also, however the technocratic aspect is less advanced, and also on the economic capital regime. I would agree with this characterization.

On the other hand the Bank scores pretty high, for example the Global Accountability Report, we score high along with the WHO, looking at the same four areas. Perhaps CSOs would still consider the Bank as not transparent, and I’d agree. After all civil society is a stakeholder, not a shareholder, and will never have a board seat. Some would say we never should, and should be only represented via Government. The Cardoso panel disagreed, that the UN should create institutional formal spaces for CS, and thus if the UN should, then shouldn’t the Bank, and the Fund etc. Hence civil society could potentially have the same access.

The third point is that obviously some people look at the WB, and see it as a lot less accessible e.g. than the UN. It’s a different world view, and finance ministers tend to have the least understanding of civil society. Nevertheless civil society errs when it says that the UN is more accessible, as some of the informal dialogue available at the World Bank can be more significant than formal dialogue at the UN – as that can be far from a route to change. UN Aids, ILO, they have civil society at the board level, and that’s far from contemplated. Sometimes the spaces that civil society generates within institutions can be equally significant, even without formalisation.

I think for civil society as well, the nature of your organization also affects the strategies you use, in terms of how you influence it.
My big question is ‘has civil society influenced the World Bank or not?’ Even if many say no, I say that after a 17 year career, that civil society has achieved enormous change, from letters, inside dialogue, street protests. I think civil society has changed a lot, in terms of the Banks’ paradigm, in terms of policies and practices. Is it enough, in terms of civil society, perhaps not.

Given the Bank is run by finance ministers, then how much can be changed? Especially for those CSOs who see the need for an equal seat as governments, then they would likely say ‘not enough’. However the question is ‘how much influence should civil society have’? I think civil society has influenced it a lot.

Twenty five years ago, there was no environmental consideration, and a host of other issues which are on the table thanks to CS.

Sheela Patel

I come to this session with a very confused sense of identity. Everyone has a different idea of what a civil society actor is, so perhaps it will be easier to say why we do what we do, and how we seek to influence.

My organization in India, and the international network of organizations that I represent, Shack Dwellers International, represents people who have found that global investment in cities, infrastructure, and other capital investment, have found these processes produce exponential increases in eviction. As a citizen, the right to be provided services, and so on, cities do not plan to accommodate the poor. Most people that work in human rights in this field, will know that the law upholds the development plan of the city. By giving you a notice, the city has the right to evict, without a responsibility to give you anything in return. The inability of having the right to reside, of citizenship, means the civil society movements emerge form people who feel they do not have the rights that they are entitled to.

Why a global network? Because many of the aspects driving these processes including the thinking, are globalised. All finance ministers control the purse strings, most in the South have rural constituencies, and see the city as simply a place to manufacture and produce.

Our architecture is from grassroots up to local. Secondly that the processes to provide voice, has not yet succeeded. Hence our community leaders who have fought evictions and others, eventually we aspire to have them instead of me and professional advocates sitting here, I and others are seat-warmers.

My colleagues are not enabled to speak in these forums, so if you are in the business of development, learn the language of development, rather than force them to learn the language of these places.

My most important lesson is that most instances the government does not know what the poor want, nor how it could be delivered. Treating poor people as consumers of development is a mistake. The poor survive despite development, and can participate in providing new solutions that go to scale if they are part of the process, its execution and design.

Fourth, the whole issue of engendering development – most of our partners were mainly men who used to fight eviction and development. The issue of habitat, creating safe neighborhoods, the responsibility of doing so is also women’s. So what agency are we giving to them? We promote new generation of women’s leaders.

Note, everything that poor people want in cities is ‘illegal or inappropriate’. We produce our efforts to challenge development norms. We have examples of interaction with the WB, and in many instances WB projects involve eviction – termed ‘involuntary resettlement’. We have shown again and again, that involving poor people in design and execution of projects, you succeed in far more successful projects.

Local economies and processes can hugely benefit form participating in this process. Our work is challenging processes, from local to global. We seek a voice, not by saying ‘we have a right to be there’ but by demonstrating that we can succeed by taking different approaches.

We as development actors require new strategies of interaction – one of the biggest challenges is that the world is becoming more urban. Most people in cities will be working and living informally, so how are these exclusionary practices going to impact that, and what does it mean to be this intermediary in institutions or with individuals who seek development.

Karla Chaman: I certainly lack the institutional memory of my colleagues here, though three years ago when I joined the Fund I read one of Jan’s articles on the Fund’s role in engaging with civil society in Africa and this inspired me, Jan’s approach is a very important and interesting in thinking about how to approach interaction between institutions and CSOs.
This process of engagement is long, people get in and out on both sides. A lot depends on people and personality – I reinforce that. It is true CSOs are extremely diverse. This needs to be embraced, despite differing agendas and priorities. However a certain level of organization is needed. This is a representation of freedom of speech, and despite beautiful chaos, we need to be strategic about how we engage, thinking about who our audience is.

John mentioned the issue of the ILO and the ITUC – but looking at how the ITUUC is organized, and it is a hierarchy. Different structures have different levels of influence and power in terms of changing things. We need to be realistic and pragmatic. We need to walk the talk, period.

What is the result? A critical issue is whether we are venting or taking actual steps, even if small.
Really, who cares about the Fund – perhaps very few people? However, everyone cares when taxes rise, or public servants wages rise or fall, who cares about debt increases? Many more

The critical challenge of the Fund, which when I worked at the Bank was very clear, it is now even more of a challenge to show why people must care.

I agree a lot with Jo-Maries’ approach – of course not everybody can or should work on the IMF, but of course people in civil society must be informed about the work of the Funds. Farmers, indigenous groups, etc all understand the issues, perhaps in different language, but they do understand.

We talk about effective mechanisms, those are the bottom line. Two days ago in capacity building with the IMF and Word Bank we discussed their tools so CSOs are better enabled and empowered to engage, and that is the work of the Fund and the Bank no doubt. I was also wondering if it is not also the work of those in institutions in the north. Global NGOs are excellent at gathering information from different CSOs at all levels, but the key issue is policy discussion.

We at the Fund have sought to engage more with local and regional issues, via consultations on any number of issues. Who participated in those dialogues and consultations? Always the same people over and over and over. Perhaps Jan is right say that there is a bias toward the North, but is it right to say it is the IMF or other northern institutions alone? What is the responsibility of local NGOs, perhaps they need more tools though that can also partly be our responsibility.

Finally, the triangle of governments, CSOs, and international institutions: we cannot replace the relationship between CSOs and national governments. Our ultimate goal, considering capacity building, is to provide you with more tools to be empowered in dialogue with national government.