Saturday, October 11, 2014

Obang Metho addresses the Civil Society Policy Forum at 2014 Annual meetings of the IMF and the WB

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Address by Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE, to the Civil Society Policy Forum at 2014 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group (WBG), Washington, DC
Thank you for inviting me to share in this panel discussion on “The Role of World Bank Indicators in Agricultural Development.” Today’s discussion is very relevant in that the World Bank is investing billions of dollars into agribusiness. Various new tools have been designed to measure and assess whether or not these investments are assisting the farm sector, including smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in improved food and livelihood security for the people. The question today is whether or not these new tools, used as indicators of the degree of success of WB projects, are accomplishing the intended goals of guiding and strengthening agribusiness in Africa?
These are some of the key questions to be answered:
First, are these indicators providing more accurate, credible and critically-needed information in regards to how these WB investments are actually working on the ground? 
Secondly, are these indicators effective in enabling better decision-making among policy makers, resulting in more success-driven policies? 
Thirdly, have the compliance requirements and outcomes of various indicators increased transparency and accountability among implementers of these projects, from local managers to federal officials in participating countries?
Fourthly, what other indicators or factors should be included in order to ensure the best outcomes for improving long-term self-sufficiency and sustainability of food and livelihood security for the people of Africa?
Re-establishing the Basics:
The World Bank is an international development bank that has poured huge amounts of aid into Africa and its development that has benefited millions of people on the continent. Its stated goals are to:
  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development
No country need participate; however, if a country chooses to do so, certain requirements are expected, whether or not one agrees with them. The WB, as a public institution, is accountable for how it delivers its financing.
This includes the responsibility of ensuring proper use of WB funds that result in improved lives for the people. At times the WB has received criticism from civil society, partner countries and others, sometimes resulting in the bank making positive changes. 
The creation of these new tools to measure the efficacy of WB projects may be an outcome on the part of the WB to the call for increased transparency and accountability from its borrowers.
Where large amounts of funds are passed between givers and receivers, there is vast opportunity for misuse, abuse, waste, theft, and corruption, especially when such projects to be are carried out in remote regions of the world among some of its most voiceless people. This includes the danger of WB funds being used to shore up the power of dictators, who then use their power against the very people the WB has targeted as primary beneficiaries, undermining the achievement of the bank’s primary goals. This is especially true in countries where transparency and accountability are lacking, where institutions are weak and where authoritarian governments, like we have in Ethiopia, believe they should “call all the shots” without interference from the people, donors or groups like the World Bank, the IMF, and the African Development Bank. These countries that do participate should enter into partnership with the WB knowing the expectations; however, in many cases, the WB and others have found information gathering to be “like pulling teeth,” exerting reverse pressure on the WB to ease up on regulations, expectations, transparency and accountability, the very purpose for the indicators.
Clearly, the indicators are only as good as the accuracy of the information provided through them; however, the bank’s efforts to better track compliance provides a model for countries where watchdog institutions have been silenced or hijacked by those in power, again, like in Ethiopia. In these cases, the WB indicators may be one of the few sources of pressure for accountability; yet, reportedly, plans have recently been proposed to weaken key WB guidelines and requirements, some of which have been in place for thirty years, and which provide needed protections to the people.  These plans, if adopted, will reduce transparency and accountability, exactly what is most needed.  
The plan itself has not been released to the public, but reportedly, changes made would water-down important safeguards and requirements among recipient partners, some of which, like Ethiopia, are already in active non-compliance. Some of the areas affected are believed to include: upholding basic freedoms, the exercise of democratic principles, respect for human rights, ensuring environmental sustainability, enforcing the rule of law, increased transparency and accountability and adherence to WB guidelines and international laws regarding indigenous peoples’ rights. By discarding these critically important guidelines, the WB fails to address many of the key obstacles to achieving their goals. Who will be hurt if the WB caves in on these key principles? It will be some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Concerns that the WB is caving in to pressure from African despots has resulted in an outpouring of criticism from civil society, especially from places where some semblance of civil society still exists. Maintaining its primary mission and principles will require the bank to take a strong moral stand against weakening safeguards and compliance. This is especially true in recipient countries, like Ethiopia, who resent any expectations of having to prove compliance, feeling entitled to receive endless WB funds and to use them in whatever way they please.
It is our contention that WB indicators, especially in more authoritarian countries, like Ethiopia, should instead be more intensely scrutinized for accuracy if the WB is to utilize its funds for the betterment of the people. These indicators can be useful only to the extent that they reflect the truth on the ground and to the extent that the WB holds recipients of WB financing accountable for meeting their requirements and guidelines. Weakening of the WB requirements or failing to uphold current WB guidelines and regulations can actually do harm or significantly interfere with achieving successful outcomes for the people on the ground. 
Case example: Ethiopia
Ethiopia has received substantial funds, in the billions, from the World Bank; however, in a country like Ethiopia, the accuracy of the information provided by them in formulating these indicators should be questioned. WB indicators should depend on facts, but in Ethiopia, there are no independent institutions.

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