In the following submission, the IMF and institutions of the World Bank Group, including the International Finance Corporation, will be referred to as the BWIs, or Bretton Woods Institutions.
This consultation represents a welcome opportunity to begin a process of dialogue over the renewal of the Civil Society Policy Forum (CSPF) at the Spring and Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank.
We are pleased to note commitments from BWI staff following the 2015 annual meetings held in Lima, Peru to ensure concerns raised in 2015 regarding the CSPF are addressed. We welcome the openness to providing a long-term location for the CSPF that returns it to the Bank’s or Fund’s main buildings and ensures the CSPF becomes easily accessible to accredited media representatives, once current renovations are completed to the IMF headquarters building. Similarly welcome is the intention to provide greater visibility for the scheduling of events at the CSPF and to make the official CSPF website easier to find on the official website. This dialogue is necessary to enable clear guidelines to emerge for how the CSPF is managed and how seminars are proposed and organised. To ensure that the CSPF is impactful and contributes meaningfully and positively to how the IMF and World Bank Group conduct their work, it is imperative that this process maximises the CSPF’s visibility and the autonomy of civil society participants and enables the widest possible participation for civil society and other participants.
As part of these consultations, a meeting with the CSPF organisers that is open to all civil society that wishes to participate should be established and made a permanent feature of all future CSPFs to provide a forum for dialogue on these issues and any on-going questions. An example of the value of such a permanent dialogue is shown by the decision to relocate the CSPF in 2014 to the World Bank Group’s I building, with highly negative consequences for the CSPF’s relevance, visibility, legitimacy and therefore impact. This was profoundly discouraging to many members of civil society, inhibiting their ability and willingness to devote the significant time and resources required to attend the CSPF.
- What is your main goal/objective when organizing a specific seminar at the Civil Society Policy Forum? If you have organized CSPF seminars in the past, please share your views on what has worked and what could have been done differently.
The objectives for organising CSPF seminars naturally vary according to context, subject and intended audience. All of these factors need to be considered to support CSO objectives when CSOs seek to organise a CSPF seminar. Audiences include other civil society organisations, BWI management and officials (including executive directors and their advisory staff), visiting government officials, and media representatives. In order to reach these audiences organisers require the CSPF to be highly visible and easily accessible to all of those groups.
A common, prime objective of CSFO seminars is to present evidence of, and experiences from, those affected by the work of the BWIs which contradicts IMF/WB policies, assertions or intended outcomes, to any or all of the audiences listed above.
A key to effective events is that they are not subject to pressure from any of the BWIs to conform to pre-existing expectations or official narratives about the issue in question. The sensitivity and gravity of some of the issues that the CSPF has been used to address require that the CSPF not be reduced to a channel for Bank or Fund public relations or other communications objectives. Such events are more appropriately organised by the BWIs in their formal events series that occur during the Spring and Annual meetings, alongside the CSPF.
Thus for the seminars organised by CSOs to work they must be designed and chosen independently, by the CSOs themselves, free of any interference from the BWIs. Seminars in the CSPF organised by the BWIs themselves can confuse the audiences participating in the CSPF, bringing into question the independence and integrity of the CSPF itself. Similarly, the apparent ignorance of most media representatives of the presence of the CSPF diminishes its impact and importance to CSO participants, discouraging civil society participation in the longer term. This is exacerbated by the physical distance and security constraints placed upon media representatives who have been unable to attend the CSPF without significant prior notice in the current structure of meetings held in Washington D.C. Given their existing constraints and the overall reduced size of media delegations at the formal meetings, this combination of factors drastically reduces the impact of CSPF seminars.
An effective aspect of CSPF seminars is the encouragement of senior BWI staff to participate as speakers at CSO-organised seminars. This could be further improved by encouraging senior management figures to make themselves similarly available. Furthermore, establishing this as a general principle would assist in encouraging staff to participate even in seminars where BWI activity or policy is subject to strong criticism. It is disappointing that in the past staff have cited concern over the critical nature of some CSPF seminars as a basis to decline participation in these events, which runs counter to the purpose of a CSPF which is impactful and the BWIs’ objective that the CSPF benefits from a wide and varied range of participants.
- In recent years, we have had more requests for CSPF seminars than slots available. How should the IMF/World Bank/CSOs agree on the best sessions to choose for the Policy Forum? How do we fit 80+ entries into about 40 or so slots, while ensuring the inclusion and representation of a diverse range of global CSOs?
The prior system of first-come first-served seminar booking worked adequately to achieve fairness and clarity for CSOs hoping to participate in the Forum and organise a seminar. The fairness was achieved because there was a simple online booking system that was open to all, equally. This also provided certainty, which is a key necessity when considering the significant financial (as well as visa) constraints that NGOs wishing to attend CSPF meetings confront. Thus maximising certainty as early as possible is a prerequisite of a fair and inclusive system. Thus it should not be for the BWIs to choose which seminars are legitimate, but rather a process of consultation should be used to develop guidelines to assist civil society to structure seminars in ways that are appropriate to the CSPF’s goals. Such guidelines would assist the BWI staff organising the CSPF to objectively and constructively provide input to potential civil society participants.
Secondly, a system which allows IMF or World Bank staff to determine which proposed seminar topics and events may be held at the CSPF risks permitting inappropriate interference with CSOs’ autonomy and acting as an indirect, even if inadvertent, mechanism to silence legitimate criticism and concerns from civil society groups, communities and their stakeholders. It is important to understand that in this regard the appropriate accountability of the BWIs may itself be lacking, and as such the CSPF and the seminars can act as an invaluable safety valve to permit issues to be raised which senior officials from the BWIs or their member governments were otherwise unaware of, either through their attendance or participation in seminars, or via subsequent media coverage.
The concern over ensuring a diverse range of civil society participates in the CSPF is of course legitimate. It is however a task of the BWIs and civil society groups themselves to encourage and make known the presence of the CSPF as a legitimate forum to participate with the institutions and to seek to raise awareness of issues, and hold the institutions to account. Excessive control, or interference, by the BWIs in seminar selection discourages the broadening of participation as it calls into question the autonomy and independence of the CSPF as a location for legitimate criticism and advocacy. It is our experience that the limitations of the Forum as currently established, and in particular changes instituted without consultation in 2015, are the principal obstacle to greater participation, including the lack of clarity until very shortly before the meetings themselves as to whether seminars have been accepted and will go ahead.
However, this must be treated as a separate issue to the question of whether the proposed topics for seminars at any particular CSPF meeting are similar, or overlapping. Over the course of many spring and annual meetings, it is natural that major policy questions that are often time-bound (for example periodic governance and quota reforms with specific deadlines, or consultation processes) may result in many proposed seminars on ostensibly similar questions at the same CSPF. This in itself is not illegitimate, as it must be remembered that civil society is inherently a diverse and multi-representational community that seeks to address a broad range of issues, but also single issues from a wide range of perspectives.
- Do you think it would be useful to have different types of formats to allow for more diverse engagement (e.g., high-level panels with audience interaction; closed-door roundtable meetings; small-scale conversations with experts)? If so, please share your thoughts on specific session formats that you think could work and which you would like to see adopted.
A broader range of formats would be broadly speaking welcome, as would greater availability of staff and officials for meetings of all types, public and private. A particular emphasis should be placed on the availability of executive board members and their staff, senior management and officials from the existing oversight mechanisms of the BWIs, including the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman, the Independent Evaluation Office and the Inspection Panel.
It should be noted, however, many of the activities of civil society groups during spring and annual meetings extend far beyond the Forum. In particular, direct contact between civil society groups and executive board members and their staff should not be entirely mediated by Bank or IMF civil society liaison or other communications staff. Many of these channels are well established, legitimate and necessary mechanisms for dialogue between civil society groups and their country or regional representatives whose job it is to oversee the work of the BWIs. Such interaction would be undermined were they to be facilitated by BWI staff when the subject of such meetings is often oversight of the institutions and the staff themselves.
Sent by Sargon Nissan, of behalf of the Bretton Woods Project and signatories listed below.
Sargon Nissan, IMF Programme Manager; The Bretton Woods Project
33-39 Bowling Green Lane, London, United Kingdom EC1R 0BJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 3122 0644 email@example.com
Arab NGO Network for Development www.annd.org
Bank Information Center, BIC www.bankinformationcenter.org
Both Ends www.bothends.org
Bretton Woods Project www.brettonwoodsproject.org
Centre of Concern www.coc.org
Centre national de coopération au développement, CNCD-11.11.11 www.cncd.be
Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales DAR www.dar.org.pe
International Planned Parenthood Federation, IPPF www.ippf.org
International Trade Union Confederation www.ituc-csi.org
New Rules for Global Finance www.new-rules.org