Eye on the Word Bank and the IMF

I arrive in Washington at noon, depressed as I consider the fi nancial crisis and what it will mean for people in impoverished countries. It’s time for the main policy meetings of the World Bank and IMF, and NGOs like me take part in some of the dozens of meetings that are planned. I take the metro from the airport to the guesthouse to drop off  my bag, and within an hour I’m at my first session, on  gender and income. It’s not a hopeful start. Money from production goes increasingly to corporate profit, and less to wages, and the fi nancial bailouts are reinforcing inequalities.

Next up is a session on  “Broad Community Support” at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank division that funds private sector projects.  The talk about community support comes down to the tension between “consultation” (required by IFC) and “consent” (not required).

There is a gradual shift by companies and the IFC to seeking “consent” of people aff ected by a project, but there are problems. Most countries don’t have adequate standards of consultation let alone consent, the IFC staff  determine how a community is to be consulted rather than the community itself, the IFC doesn’t know how to gauge consent, and communities are usually divided on support or opposition to a project. Despite all the rationalizing about why the World Bank doesn’t do better, the talk is all about rights and empowerment and it’s lifted my mood considerably. Until recently the World Bank didn’t engage in this kind of talk at all.

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