outstanding issues


December 1997

In March 1996, a network of civil-society organizations, subsequently known as SAPRIN, reached an agreement with the World Bank's new President, James Wolfensohn, to jointly assess, through the active participation of affected citizens' groups in some ten countries, structural adjustment programs supported by the Bank and the other international financial institutions. While the Bank has worked with NGOs over the years in various contexts, never before had it been engaged by such a broad range of citizens' groups on such a contentious issue, one that goes to the heart of its operations and that has generated such a negative impact and such a strong reaction around the globe. The two parties agreed that there was significant risk on both sides and that a relationship of trust and mutual commitment had to be established in order to allow the initiative, SAPRI, to succeed.

Under sometimes stressful circumstances, SAPRIN and its 20-member Steering Committee have, almost without exception, lived up to both the specific and broad commitments comprising the agreements negotiated with the Bank. Most notably, SAPRIN has encouraged, and has already in most cases helped achieve, broad-based civil-society involvement in the various country exercises. In most SAPRI countries, citizen organizing proceeds apace, often in extraordinary fashion. In this regard, SAPRI has already become a groundbreaking exercise, and, in those countries in which the Bank and the government have fully engaged civil society in the planning of the participatory process, the potential for significant learning and change is great. Much of this progress and potential is reflected elsewhere on this Web site.

Unfortunately, Bank management, which from the beginning of the Initiative has stressed the importance of partnership, has not complied with numerous formal and informal agreements made with SAPRIN, thus creating significant problems, some of which persist. Citing at different times perceived reservations on the part of member governments, of Board members or of senior staff, management has consistently demonstrated insufficient political will to overcome what have been principally internal obstacles to the evolution of SAPRI. In addition, staff that have not been supportive of SAPRI have often been given the responsibility for eliciting government approval to conduct SAPRI exercises. In short, while the Bank's decision to engage in SAPRI is commendable, its institutional behavior in the Initiative has been inconsistent with its new Strategic Compact committing it to partnership with civil society worldwide.

The hard work of middle-level staff and the support of some Bank managers (particularly in the Africa region) have helped keep the Initiative for the most part on track to date, and significant progress has been made in a number of areas. This progress has often been slow and painstaking, however, and a number of key issues remain unresolved. The most important issues relate to the Bank's failure to secure representative participation of member governments in Latin America and to approve an adequate information-disclosure policy for the Initiative, potentially skewing and significantly delaying SAPRI field operations. They and other significant issues are listed and detailed below. The members of SAPRIN's Steering Committee urge the Bank to address these matters promptly so that SAPRI can both fulfill its promise and help overcome the mistrust that continues to exist in relations between the World Bank and civil society.

SAPRIN meanwhile remains fully committed to SAPRI, particularly at this time of international financial crisis when the need for a review of the role of the IFIs and the appropriateness and impact of economic-reform policies is gaining broad acceptance. In this context, the limited involvement of Asian and Latin American countries in SAPRI is a shortcoming that cries out for remedy.

SAPRIN, has, on its own, taken new initiatives and shaped new strategies designed to complement and promote the SAPRI process. These include, but have not been limited to, the provision of support to parallel country initiatives to supplement the learning emanating from SAPRI, SAPRIN's continual expansion as a multi-sectoral global citizens' network, and the establishment of a SAPRIN Web page.

In the name and spirit of transparency and public accountability, we present the following outstanding issues for those interested in, and following the progress of, SAPRI.


1) Information Policy  Resolved, February 1998:

The World Bank has failed to implement a number of policy agreements negotiated with SAPRIN to make information essential to SAPRI available to all participants, including those from civil society.

2) Participation of Emerging Markets

The Bank has failed to honor its commitment to actively pursue a major Latin American emerging-market economy to include in the SAPRI exercise.

3) Latin American Participation

The Bank has refused to follow agreed-upon procedures to hold the government of El Salvador to its commitment to participate in SAPRI or vigorously pursue the participation of another Latin American country.

4) Field Research Methodology

The Bank has not significantly involved its participatory-research experts in the development with SAPRIN of a field-research methodology, creating an unsatisfactory process and a document in need of clearer operational guidelines.

5) Breadth of Government Involvement

The Bank has not yet sufficiently encouraged or achieved broad-based government involvement in SAPRI decision-making structures and processes in most participating countries.

6) Lack of World Bank Senior Management Follow-Through

Bank senior management has failed to ensure that the commitments that it and its staff have made as part of SAPRI are carried out in accordance with the agreements negotiated with SAPRIN.

1) Information Policy  Resolved, February 1998

During the negotiations to establish procedures to implement SAPRI, the SAPRIN civil- society Steering Committee held to the position that SAPRI could not succeed unless all parties involved were working from the same set of information, i.e., that it would be unacceptable for the World Bank to have various studies and documents that were not available to the civil-society participants. In March 1996, President Wolfensohn agreed to make the necessary documents available, and the Bank's SAPRI steering committee confirmed this commitment in a joint meeting that July. Yet, no proposal to this end was forthcoming from the Bank for eight months, and what was then delivered to SAPRIN was woefully inadequate.

Information teams from the Bank and SAPRIN subsequently spent months negotiating an information-disclosure policy for the Initiative. Taking into account that the Bank has classified various documents as confidential, SAPRIN compromised to break the impasse by agreeing to have joint information teams established in each country responsible for reviewing all documents relevant to adjustment programs and for writing a detailed summary to be disseminated widely to civil society. After this agreement was reached, however, various additional Bank roadblocks emerged. First, the legal department, which was represented throughout the negotiations, objected, and, when SAPRIN once again consented to a modification in the agreement to meet Legal's concerns, senior management objected, citing the need for Board approval. SAPRIN requested a decision by 1 December so that the first country forums, already delayed a few months, could be held in February or March. However, 18 months after an agreement in principle was reached on the issue, these forums remain on hold -- probably until June, at the earliest. Meanwhile, recurrent costs continue to be incurred at the national, regional and international levels, and the considerable momentum that had been generated is being lost.

2) Participation of Emerging-Market Economies

From the beginning, all parties to SAPRI agreed that the countries involved in the exercise had to be representative of the nations that have undergone structural adjustment. It was considered essential that at least one large, Latin American emerging market, preferably Mexico, be included in the exercise. Under the SAPRI agreement, the civil-society Steering Committee chooses countries that are also on the World Bank suggestion list, and the Bank has the responsibility for securing government approval. Three months after the selection of Mexico, the Bank's Latin America Vice Presidency finally approached the Mexican government, which then declined to participate.

Deciding not to push the issue, the SAPRIN Steering Committee suggested either Argentina or Brazil. Again, Bank management deferred to the Latin America region, which, after various promises and long delays, refused even to ask the Argentinean or Brazilian governments if they would agree to participate in SAPRI. Our Steering Committee believes that, in order to secure the participation of a large, Latin American emerging market and involve a representative cross-section of countries from which to learn in the exercise, the Bank would have to use all of its resources, including, if necessary, the intervention of President Wolfensohn. But, instead, the Bank has continued to leave the matter to the Latin America region, which has expressed little enthusiasm for the Initiative and which has not surprisingly produced few positive results to date.

As a result, so far only small and medium-sized economies are represented in SAPRI. On its own, SAPRIN has sought to rectify the situation by supporting parallel initiatives that civil-society organizations in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil have decided to take instead with their respective legislatures while we all wait for greater cooperation and commitment from the Bank.

3) Latin American Participation

The attitude of the World Bank's Latin America Vice Presidency toward SAPRI resulted in only two small Latin American countries, El Salvador and Ecuador, originally participating in the Initiative. In El Salvador, as the civil-society network grew in strength, the Finance Minister began having second thoughts until, in June 1997, he announced his government's withdrawal from SAPRI. The Bank subsequently refused to exert high-level influence or to comply with established procedures to include SAPRIN in the resolution of the problem. Rather, the Bank announced unilaterally that it was no longer participating in El Salvador, leaving Ecuador as the only "official" SAPRI country. Civil-society groups are proceeding with the exercise in El Salvador, however, and have provided the Bank and the government with an open invitation to rejoin the process at any time.

With Latin American participation incomplete, the SAPRIN and World Bank Steering Committees both agreed to include another South American nation when a network of civil-society organizations from that country asked that it be allowed to participate in SAPRI. The Bank again turned to its Latin America Vice Presidency to secure government approval. Despite civil society's good relationship with the government and the organizers' offer to facilitate the approval process, Bank officials (who had previously expressed their lack of interest in the exercise) met alone with the government officials and afterwards reported on the unlikeliness of the government's involvement in SAPRI. Government officials are now refusing to meet with civil-society representatives on the issue. In contrast, Bank officials have successfully encouraged African government participation in the Initiative, demonstrating the potential success of SAPRI where there is sufficient political will on the part of the institution.

4) Field Research Methodology

It was agreed in July 1996 that SAPRIN and World Bank technical teams would jointly devise a participatory methodology for the field-research stage of SAPRI, relying on both qualitative and quantitative information. The SAPRIN Steering Committee chose its best available activist social scientists from Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as a U.S.-based coordinator, for its technical team. Although the Bank has experts in participatory research on staff, it has rarely drawn on their expertise in SAPRI. Lauding the participatory, 'political economy' approach taken by the SAPRIN team, staff with the necessary skills from various parts of the Bank have expressed their frustration over not being brought into the process. Instead, the institution began by assigning advocates of traditional quantitative research to its team, creating a frustrating, time-consuming stop-and-go process in which the treatment of many important issues, such as gender, proved difficult. Negotiations that should have lasted a few months took more then a year, and the end result is far from satisfactory, with contradictions between traditional and participatory methodology still present and unresolved. At the very least, clearer operational guidelines are required.

5) Breadth of Government Involvement

The civil-society Steering Committee urged the World Bank to match SAPRIN's efforts to effect broad-based citizen participation in the country exercises by ensuring the parallel involvement of a broad spectrum of government institutions in those nations participating in SAPRI. The Bank is accustomed to dealing primarily with finance ministers and Central Bank representatives as its official counterparts and has largely limited its SAPRI contacts to those officials. However, other ministries, branches and levels of government also have responsibilities related to, and/or have constituencies profoundly affected by, structural adjustment. In response to repeated requests by the SAPRIN Steering Committee, the Bank sent an e-mail message to field offices requesting that they involve other ministries beyond finance in the local SAPRI steering committees and decisionmaking processes. To date, however, three sectors profoundly affected by SAPs -- labor, agriculture and industry -- remain unrepresented by their corresponding government ministries in virtually all the SAPRI exercises.

6) Lack of World Bank Senior Management Follow-Through

On numerous issues, including those detailed above, World Bank officials have made promises and commitments on which they have so far failed to follow through. Similarly, Bank senior management will rarely accept the responsibility for enforcing institutional compliance with agreements that SAPRIN made with the Bank in good faith. Instead, the Bank's SAPRI Secretariat will often leave it to SAPRIN to chase after senior officials of the Bank to remind them of their commitments, usually to no avail. While the original SAPRI agreement was made with the Bank's President, none of the direct conduits to his office -- his former chief-of-staff, his principal Managing Director for operations, or key Vice Presidents -- has given priority to the partnership and commitments upon which SAPRI has been built. While individuals within the Bank have worked hard on a daily basis to make SAPRI an effective vehicle for including civil society in the policy assessment and formulation process, the Bank has yet to demonstrate that, as a bureaucracy and as an institution, it can act as an effective partner on issues of such central importance to citizens worldwide.

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