WASHINGTON, Apr 20 (IPS) - The World Bank's president denied Friday his institution
was failing to adequately consult civil society groups and blamed governments
for any shortfall in the Bank's efforts to meet grassroots demand for participation
”We have come a hell of a long way that the poverty reduction strategy programs
include civil society more than they ever dreamed of,” James Wolfensohn said in
response to accusations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), that the Bank
remained unresponsive to their concerns regarding a raft of issues from the Bank's
impact on world poverty to the agency's respect for national sovereignty, transparency
and public accountability.
”Transparency has been enormously increased. Accountability has been enormously increased. Country ownership has been enormously increased,” Wolfensohn added.
His comments came a day after activists from the Structural Adjustment Participatory
Review International Network (SAPRIN), which was set up to work with the Bank
in assessing the effects of structural adjustment programs (SAPs), said the Bank
was retreating from its initial enthusiasm to engage with civil society groups.
”In the end, I'll tell you precisely, what the politicians say to us and the leaders of governments say,” Wolfensohn told reporters. ”They say 'we were elected to do this. We are the people that you should deal with. It is not the people who are not elected and who are not accountable (civil society groups) that you have to take into account'.”
He added: ”More and more leaders in democratic countries are saying to us 'look, we like this idea of consultation. But on the questions of macro policies and budgets, who are they (activists)? Let them do it within the context of the domestic political system.”
Bank officials long have said activists target the institution unfairly, that their complaints should be directed at the governments that control the Bank.
''I have been on the firing end of this,'' Wolfensohn said Friday. ''There is a very strong reaction coming from elected governments' officials.''
Turning to the activists, he added: ”I wish that they, or some of them, would change their tune and tell us we haven't done enough on the next level of things we are doing rather than going back to ideas addressed five years ago and to which we have been particularly responsive.”
Doug Hellinger, executive director of the Washington-base Development GAP and coordinator of SAPRIN's secretariat, countered: ”Access without consequence is meaningless.”
”If Northern governments are the ones restricting him, then this may not be true. Many Northern governments, particularly in Europe, have been supportive of the idea of engagement,'' said Hellinger. ''If they were Southern governments, then let's sit down and find a way to solve it.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also has been under attack for its alleged lack of transparency and accountability.
On Wednesday, IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler said, ”We recognize in the
IMF that we made mistakes. We are in the process of learning. We are absolutely
prepared and I think it's absolutely in our advantage to listen to the demonstrators
and to NGOs, to be involved in this dialogue. But be prepared, to have a dialogue
with us you have to be more peaceful. It will have more effect.”
NGOs' complaints appear to have provoked more than just Wolfensohn's and Koehler's protestations.
On Thursday, SAPRIN released a report cataloguing the frustrations of trying to engage the Bank.
”The Bank's continual calls to street protesters to seek change from the Bank through dialogue were denounced as disingenuous, and increased public pressure was encouraged to make the institution more open, democratic and responsive to the people of the Global South,” the report said.
Wolfensohn wanted to learn about the relationship between structural adjustment and poverty and inequality so that the Bank could do business differently, Hellinger recounted.
”Yet, he and his top management did not even show up to discuss the findings, as agreed, and then dropped out of the process. We hadn't heard a word from them in over eight months until this week,” he said.
Following European media coverage of SAPRIN's report this week, Hellinger said, ”it is them (Bank officials) who are now running after us to see if we can meet.”
Bank officials were unavailable for immediate reaction to Hellinger's comments.
At a news conference, Wolfensohn confirmed he would meet SAPRIN representatives
but said he was unaware of any specific timetable for talks.
Copyright 2002 IPS