World vs. Bank: Public Hearing on The World Bank

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The World Bank Campaign Europe is preparing a public hearing on the World Bank in co-operation with the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. It will take place on the 15th of October in The Hague, Netherlands, one week before the Annual Meetings of the World Bank.

The context: The World Bank in Crisis
The World Bank is the world’s largest multilateral development bank and one of the most powerful international organisations, providing financing and promoting policy paths which affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the developing world. The official main goal of the institution is to reduce poverty world wide.

Today, the World Bank faces a severe institutional and political crisis. The institution is rapidly loosing legitimacy. It is criticised more strongly than ever by donor and borrower governments as well as civil society organisations and local communities for increasing rather than reducing poverty by imposing harmful economic policy conditions; for environmental devastation; for contributing to conflict; and for failing to respect local peoples’ rights. Evidence of harm from the ground has been corroborated by a series of official reviews of the Bank’s activities. In addition, the World Bank’s internal governance still shows a big democracy deficit. One emblematic example of that is the process for selecting the president of the World Bank – a decision which still rests with the White House.

Why do we need a new Hearing?
Following a period of severe political division at the World Bank Board under the presidency of Paul Wolfowitz, a new Bank president took up office in July 2007. He will have to consider where he wants to take the World Bank and build a political coalition to support this. 2007 is also the year where donor governments negotiate the 15th replenishment of funds to the concessional arm of the World Bank, the International Development Association.

The conclusions of the Hearing will put donor governments under pressure to set more precise objectives for how taxpayers’ aid money should be spent, and to audit performance on a regular basis. The documentation of the Hearing will also provide a solid source to feed an intensive debate about the future of the organisation, the current development model and potential alternatives.

Issues to be investigated by the Jury
The Public Hearing will analyse two policy ‘cases’ of the World Bank, economic conditionalities and the funding of extractive industry projects. These two issues are particularly suited to demonstrate how the Bank’s poverty reduction strategies are constantly failing to benefit poor people. In many instances they have even worsened the situation for local communities while continuing to harm the (global) environment.

In the case of conditionalities the list of negative impacts is endless, e.g. through privatisations of public services like water and electricity supply poor people have lost access. In the agricultural sector there are also many examples: the liberalisation of the cotton industry has forced the local sector to compete with subsidised cotton producers from the North. The issue of conditionality closely links to current debates of national ownership over development and to the diminishing fiscal space in poor countries, with national budgets highly dependent on aid flows. It also demonstrates how global investors’ interests rather than the needs of the poor seem to be determining policy decisions.

The funding of large fossil fuel projects like Chevron’s Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline do not provide many job opportunities for local communities, and do not help local governments gain energy security. As most extractive industry projects serve western consumption needs, poor communities are still living off-grid without access to electricity and energy for basic needs. Worse still, there is widespread evidence that these projects harm the environment and therefore destroy the livelihoods of many farmers in the affected regions. Local negative social impacts often include prostitution, pollution, health problems, corruption and exclusion. Additionally, fossil fuel projects contribute substantially to global warming, while the World Bank committed to fight climate change. In developing countries, oil, mining and gas development leads to the “resource curse” – intensified marginalisation of the poorer population, bad governance, the aggravation or the emergence of violent conflicts, and failed economic development.

The Event
Witnesses from all Southern continents will give testimony of the impacts of World Bank policies and practices, especially in the areas of conditionalities and fossil fuel project funding. Well-known and respected experts will listen to testimonies from all parts of the world about the impact of World Bank financing. The witnesses will answer questions from the experts as well as the audience. In the evening, the expert panel would convene to draft a declaration to be presented the next morning in a press conference. There will be a live video streamlining for the entire event.

People for the expert panel will be Maartje van Putten(currently AfDB inspection panel member, Netherlands), Elmar Altvater (economist, Germany), Francesco Martone (Senator, Italy), Susan George (tbc) and Medha Patkar (National Alliance of People’s Movements, India).

As witnesses we invited Gustavo Salgado (President of Nicaraguan National Consumer’s Network) on electricity privatisation, Miguel Palacin (President of Peru’s Mine Affected Communities and CONAI Indigenous Network) on policy conditions related to mining, Temo Tamboura from CAD Mali on the impact of cotton sector liberalisation, Michael Karipko (campaign officer of Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria) on West African Gas Pipeline, Svetlana Anosova of the Berezovka Initiative Group, Kazakhstan speaking about the Kashagan Pipeline.

The World Bank Campaign Europe is planning to stream the Hearing live on the internet so that can be viewed from anywhere in the world.

For more information please get in touch with Juliane Westphal: jwestphal@eurodad.org

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