SAPRI is generating enthusiasm among World Bank employees, many of whom have known for some time about the negative impact of SAPs, but have been afraid to speak out. Following is an article on the Public Launch from an official World Bank publication.

World Bank's 'Bank's World' Logo

By Kevin Rafferty

The World Bank and some of its fiercest critics last week began a dialog and together launched an unprecedented joint assessment of the impact of the Bank's often controversial structural adjustment programs (SAPs). Over the next 12 to 18 months executives from the Bank, the affected governments and a coalition of 500 citizens' groups will sit down together to examine SAPs in seven countries on four continents to see what lessons they contain for future economic reform programs.

Several hundred people almost filled the Preston audiorium to listen to Doug Hellinger, coordinator of the coalition of citizens' groups, Bank president James Wolfensohn and Argentine political and human rights activist Graciela Fernandez Meijide.

It is clearly not yet a love-fest. Hellinger fired some opening shots accusing the Bank of inaction

Wolfensohn spiritedly replied that the Bank was offering a partnership between itself, governments and civil society. "I am not prepared to cede the moral high ground to our colleagues in civil society. I work here because I care about poverty. So do 10,000 others," Wolfensohn declared. "I would like you all to know that. We care as much about poverty, about women, about children, about social justice as anyone here in this room. We spend every day worrying about rural poverty, microcredit, how to improve health standards, bring clean water, defeat malaria, remove poverty."

Nor was he claiming that he and the Bank were sitting on top of the mountain, he added, offering "partnership" between the Bank, governments and civil society. "The three of us together can make a difference in the lives of the people we are trying to help." He pointed out that the number of Bank staff dealing with civil society had increased from two when he became president to 52 today. The very fact of this meeting inside the Bank was a sign of the changed climate of cooperation, not confrontation.

Graciela Fernandez Meijide claimed that privatization in South America had led to concentration of wealth, higher unemployment, bankruptcy of small- and medium sized enterprises, and increases in debt levels, infant mortality and child labor.

The opening session was the start of a week-long dialog that will start the actual project, which is called the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Iniatiative or SAPRI. Seven governments -- Bangladesh, Ecuador, Ghana, Hungary, Mali, Uganda and Zimbabwe, "seven brave farseeing governments," as Wolfensohn called them --have agreed to take part in the review. There was some criticism from NGOs that some governments they had wanted to be part of the review had not agreed to join. But Wolfensohn pointed out that the Bank was not able to force governments to participate. He hoped that others would want to participate as the work evolved.

What will happen now is that in each SAPRI country the Bank will meet with the government and with a broad coalition representing civil society and including labor unions, farmers' associations, small business groups and NGOs to assess SAPs and draw lessons from them. Doug Hellinger added that, "Our aim is to give voice to those who have been excluded from economic policymaking and to give governments greater flexibility to respond to the needs of their own people."

There is still much clearing of the air to be done. Kamal Malhotra of Focus on the Global South summed up the first session saying, "the World Bank claimed that there would be pain [from the SAPs] but it would be transitory. It seems to me that the World Bank believes in life after death and that your karma is determined by your power in the marketplace."

Hellinger told Bank's World: "There has undoubtedly been a breakthrough, but it will be a little rocky at first. Wolfensohn ought to be praised: he opened the door and he is a real hope, but I don't yet see the same openness among his colleagues at the vice presidential level. The Bank is still embracing adjustment programs and using social policy to patch them up. We need to widen economic policy to include ordinary people in the decisionmaking process."

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