|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.|
|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
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,
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."