Questions from the Media and the Public

Representative of the Associated Press (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Hellinger): Has the lion lain down with the lamb? La guerre est fini? Will there be other attempts by the World Bank and its critics to get together? Where do you go from here? What happens if you fail?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: Let me start by saying I am not sure whether I am the lion or the lamb. I regard this as having gotten together. Whether we have lain down I am not sure, but we are certainly together in an exercise which is united by what I described as a common objective, which is to try and deal with the issues of poverty and equity. Are there other things that we are doing, yes. We have a series of initiatives, ranging from Bank-NGO committees to consultations on everything from environment to work in particular areas from education to health to social welfare. And my objective, and the objective of my colleagues at the World Bank, is to try and break down the walls of this participation, to retrain the perceptions of some World Bank officers about civil society and hope that there is an equal openness on the part of civil society towards the World Bank. This will only work if there is a two-way openness. If there is a sense of total certainty on the part of one side and not the other, then it makes it difficult to have a dialogue. So I would urge that it be two-way, but I am in every way possible trying to lead a series of initiatives that my colleagues have adopted to have a true sense of participation with civil society--including, as I said, representatives in our offices. If SAPRI fails, we will try again. This is not the end of the process. I hope that it is a constructive and successful process. But if for any reason SAPRI fails, we will come up with another idea because participation is too important to rest on a single initiative. Having said that, I believe this is an extremely good initiative, it is one that we are 100 percent behind, and one that I hope will be very fruitful and rewarding for all the people we are trying to assist.

Response by Mr. Hellinger: What is really significant about this initiative is that it is about participation, it is about civil society, but it is also about civil society participation on the issue of the day, economic policymaking. It is the first time that anything like that has been done. And when some of us went to see Jim Wolfensohn, that is what he stressed the involvement of civil society. But we too in civil society want to give governments a chance to respond first and foremost to their own people, and that means flexibility, that means participation, that means openness. What happens if it fails. I do not think that any of us thinks this is the end-game. Change is slow. The World Bank is opening its doors. There are many other actors in this process. The most important thing is that participation means real involvement, and what is happening now is that there has been mobilization around the world, around this initiative because it is a constructive way to bring about change. And that will perhaps be the most far-reaching and everlasting aspect of SAPRI. So we are very positive. I think we have been good partners in this process and intend to continue to be. We are really encouraged by Jim Wolfensohn's words to this effect.

Member of the Brazilian Congress (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn): If the Brazilian government did not accept to include Brazil as one of the countries to be part of SAPRI, I ask you is the World Bank willing to be open to accept a dialogue on an exercise similar to SAPRI that could be carried out by the National Congress and NGOs in Brazil?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: No.

Representative of the Hindustan Times, India (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn): It seems that under SAPRI you will have participatory monitoring by many groups including some which, till the other day, were saying 50 years is enough. Do you think that will inhibit initiative among World Bank staff?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: I view things from the point of view of the World Bank. I think the World Bank is changing tremendously and I think there is a considerable openness in the Bank at this moment. I do not know how much the views of civil society have changed. I think they are very slow to change and probably correctly so. They feel they have been burnt, there have been problems in the past, and maybe people cannot accept that the World Bank is willing to change. I think if there is an openness, then you will have an openness on the part of the World Bank. I think that if you keep punching, people get hurt on the chin and they may punch back. So my hope is that this is going to be an open exercise. It would be true for anybody in this room. If you come as equals to discuss the subject, I think you will get a tremendous reaction from the World Bank--and a positive reaction. But if the discussion is accusatory and it is on the basis that you do not know what you are doing, and that you are not interested in poverty or women or children, I think you could put some World Bank officers on the defensive, but I can tell you at this moment in time there is a great willingness to proceed and a great hope that this will be a productive exercise. So I am going at this with full hope.

Representative of the Institute for Policy Studies (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn): Mr. Wolfensohn, I had two questions for you. One is if I understand correctly it seems as if there has been some difficulty within your Latin American division in terms of getting some of the countries on board that it seems important to include in the SAPRI exercise, particularly Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and now El Salvador. And I am wondering what you are willing to do to try to get at least some of these governments to cooperate with the exercise. The second question is at the end of the day if after these examinations in the field, if the evidence comes back, the conclusions come back, overwhelmingly that the structural adjustment policies have not alleviated poverty, will the World Bank abandon SAP conditionalities in the future?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: Let me deal with both questions. We have really made an effort to try and persuade governments to join this exercise. But you have got to understand that this is a very unusual exercise and I am actually thrilled that we have got 7 brave, farseeing governments to join us in the enterprise. There is no way that I or any of my colleagues in the Latin American division can force any government to do anything. I have said before they own us. What we can try and do is to influence them--on the basis that what we are doing here is in the long run interest of the people of the countries in which we are operating. I hope that by example we may be able to encourage some more governments to join. I think if I go in with a shotgun and say you must do it, there is no way that we will get anybody to join. But I think that if we move forward in a constructive way, there is a real chance that other governments will say this is a pretty good exercise, let us join it. So that is my hope. Now on the issue of conclusions of this, I have told you I am wide open. First of all I think, one of the early things that is going to be discovered is that when you say structural adjustment, it covers many many things. It is not a singular activity. Structural adjustment is designed to try and develop a macroeconomic framework that is positive for all the people in a country. And if we learn that some of the things we are doing, do not have that effect then I am willing to change while we are doing it. It is equally possible that we might come up with some notions that some of the things we are doing are in fact valid. It is not impossible that after 50 years, something we have done has been worthwhile. I actually think--if at a gathering like this I can divulge just for a minute--that I must be working in a different world because I spend every day actually worrying about women, children, rural poverty, microcredit, health, water. That is what I do everyday and I get no credit for that. And 10,000 people come in everyday and worry about that and it may surprise you that that is what I do everyday. And I keep wondering how a program here can be extended because its not broad enough in its reach. I worry how I can get from village to village, how I can approach the problems of river blindness or health or malaria or poverty in its broader sense. So I would just like you to know that everything here is not on the pin of structural adjustment but if it proves that some of the economic parameters that we are setting make it more difficult for us to achieve the things that I worry about everyday, then of course we will take another look at it. That is why we are here. And I am coming at it with an open mind.

Representative of Universal, Venezuela: While it is true that the World Bank has had many critics, it is also true that the Bank has not done a very good job at explaining its policies or always justifying them. I would like to ask the question about civil society. I hear this term being thrown about continually. By what right does this particular group arrogate to itself the right to represent the broad public which is not necessarily represented by the government. You have political parties, you have all kinds of other organizations which may be or may not be critical. I think the problem is to try to get feedback from the public. But I am just wondering what is the definition of civil society?

Response by Ms. Nacpil: We are not exactly arrogating onto ourselves the right to represent the whole of civil societies in our countries. In fact, the only thing we are claiming at this point is that we are organizations who are committed to convening--and in many instances these processes have started--broad participatory processes in our countries where groups from communities, from villages, from various sectors like women, youth and labor organizations and even from churches will be participating in expressing their views. The process does not involve only us, the organizations present here, but thousands of organizations and communities in each of these countries.

Response by Mr. Hellinger: Let me add that the World Bank asked the same question and it is a legitimate question. We are committed as a steering committee to reaching out extremely broadly in each country. What you will hear today are interesting stories in one country after another of dozens, in some cases a hundreds or so organizations, coming together across sectors to present a point of view that has not being heard in policymaking. We are committed to doing that, even though sometimes it is difficult to do it, because we have an agreement with the World Bank to do exactly that.

Representative of the UN, New York (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Hellinger): My question really is not to do with the UN, it is to do with the problem that I have seen. I have worked in Africa for many years in villages and in research, and with government, and one of the things that has begun to make me despair somewhat is the fact that it is not so much that we are short of information or that we are short of knowledge or that we are short of science, but that there is a real gap in how this information gets to people. The simple fact that when you are in a village and you see the gap between lack of knowledge say about a particular disease or pests that affect crops and the amount of science that is available to deal with that problem, and the apparent lack of ability to bring this knowledge that exists to this group of people so that they can use it, that really is a vexing problem. I think it is something to look at in terms of how knowledge that exists can be available to people. The second problem has to do with the context in which this knowledge is given. It is really to do with culture and in many development discussions and debates, we talk very little about culture, we shy away from culture and I wondered how this group is dealing with issues of culture. Because where people are poor they have the tendency to hold on to their culture because that is the one thing that is stable and that they can go back to. And at the same time the paradox in that is the way in which culture sometimes impedes them from getting access to advance themselves. And I think it is a very troublesome question and I would like to see someone address it.

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: There are three levels at which we are dealing. At the village level, what we are looking at now is how we can create programs that are extendible so that we can in fact hit the whole of a country and not just a sector for the reasons that you described. In Benin at the moment, we are doing an extension program which within two years will hit all the villages in the country. I think for me one of the key elements is rural extension as a possibility and we are working on it very extensively and as a good prototype for other parts of Africa. The second thing is that we have just had in Canada a seminar on knowledge and development because with new technologies there is the possibility of reaching each village. We have done that in the jungles of the Amazon with satellite transmission, but I am not talking about satellite transmission alone. You can do it with a wind up radio to create information. And I think that some of the new technologies can place us in an opportunity to distribute information and knowledge much quicker and more broadly and I am really excited about it. The third thing is, and I think we have to be very careful about culture, and I am looking at expanding work and our lending to preserve culture, not to displace it, but to preserve it, because I have come to the view that you do not have development without cultural continuity. I think you have got to give people a recognition that what they hold on to from their families and from their traditions is the solid base for moving forward and I am in fact for putting more money into cultural continuity and cultural development, guarding cultures, which in very poor countries is difficult. But we are looking at a program which will make money available, a special program only for culture lending. It cannot be taken and used for something else because I think that country by country as I have gotten around the thing that we need to think about in development is the preservation of culture and add to it, not to regard it as something which is holding things up. And I have a long theory on this that at some point I would be glad to talk to you about.

Representative of Dow Jones (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn): As you said, critics of the World Bank have not been silent. So I would think at this point you all would have some ideas about ways to change policies. Does that mean that this exercise is directed more at governments changing their policies? A very cynical person would think that it could simply be a means to quiet critics for a couple of months while you go through studies. Also, are seven or eight countries involved initially?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: There are seven countries. El Salvador has withdrawn. Cynics can say anything and I have no doubt they will. But I can assure you that this is not a cynical exercise, this is a tough exercise, and it is an open-ended exercise. And if I wanted to quieten people, I just would not reply to letter for a few months. That would also keep them quiet. That has been a tactic that has been engaged in some places before, but this is a constructive exercise. And thirdly, it is not directed just at governments. I actually believe that all three of us have something to learn. What is hard for me is that when I say things there is always the assumption that maybe I am not saying the truth. I am not used to that but I am learning. And I would just repeat to you that this exercise is as far as I am concerned what it seems. It is a tripartite exercise to try and get at the root cause of poverty and to help us move on together. Now if Dow Jones believes that it will be great. If it does not, I will understand. But that is the fact.

Member of the Argentine Congress (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn): I would like to ask you, first, whether the Argentine government has been requested to cooperate and what has been the answer and, second, based on your response to the question by the Brazilian person, if a government decides not to participate, whether the World Bank is still interested, and you said no. So my question is: if adjustment policies were explained as an imposition by the World Bank why we cannot today, faced with the problems such as the growth of poverty and exclusion, impose as strongly some different policies. I believe there is an exaggerated asymmetry between this process of coordination with civil society and the persuasion that was used to push for economic reforms.

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: My answer no to the question was straightforward because, as I have said, we are an intergovernmental multilateral organization, where our shareholders are governments. Our counterparts are the governments not the parliamentary bodies, and that is a fact. Now, what I have done personally in all my visits is to extend my own consultations in virtually every country to the parliamentary bodies because I am very conscious of the fact that one of the most important elements of civil society is the parliamentary body. It is not excluded just because it is parliamentary. It happens to be a very important representative of the people that selected them. And so I have a very very both high regard for and recognition of the strength of parliamentary bodies. But in this case, I have a Board of Directors to deal with. And the Board of Directors is not used to this sort of exercise. And if I had gone in to the Board and said, whether you like it or not we are going to go ahead and have an examination of your country and if you say no it does not matter, we are going to go ahead anyway with your parliament. It may have been a good way for me to resign and maybe I will do it one day, it is rather a neat idea, but it would just not get the support. So what I am hopeful for, frankly, is that when we start this exercise and people recognize that it is not destructive but constructive, we will have more people join. Because the alternative of going in and trying to force them is simply impossible. It is just not on. Pragmatically, it is not on. So I am hopeful that we can get some willing governments to join us and then I am in a good situation to build. But if I do the other it is not going to succeed. And with the case of Argentina, I am just informed by my colleague that we made some soundings and did not think it would be a very productive activity but if you have better ideas we would of course more than welcome Argentina to this activity.

Graduate Student at the University of Pittsburgh (addressed to Mr. Wolfensohn, Ms. Nacpil, and Ms. Wangusa): What part of the government gave approval for this exercise to take place? Is it a congress or one of the ministries of development or economics? And I would like to ask the women on the panel, in that process what was the one--if you could say one--greatest obstacle or challenge to getting this approved, that you feel may continue to be a challenge, or that was and now you are beyond that?

Response by Mr. Wolfensohn: Let me answer the technical question. It was our counterpart ministry with each government. In some cases, it is the finance ministry, and in some cases it is the development ministry, but whoever the governments appoint is the ministry that we went to.

Response by Ms. Nacpil: In the case of the Philippines, the government formally refused to take part through the Department of Finance. It is our understanding that they do not think it is a good time to do it now because there will be elections next year and the head of the department has said that he wants to run for president. So despite the fact that the World Bank apparently considers the Philippines a success story, the Philippine government is not confident enough, I think, to do this review at this time.

Response by Ms. Wangusa: In the case of Africa, we did not have any problems.

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