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The World Bank has committed to 100% beneficiary feedback in its projects and aims through its corporate strategy to empower citizens to participate in the development process. At the same time, since 2012 over 60 countries have passed legislation restricting civil society’s ability to freely operate and many communities face intimidation or criminalization when raising concerns around development activities.
Bank Information Center organized a session with Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, World Movement for Democracy, International Accountability Project, and Coalition for Human Rights in Development at the World Bank Spring Meetings Civil Society Policy Forum titled “What Does Shrinking Space for Civil Society Mean for the Twin Goals?”. This session drew upon examples of restrictions on citizen voice from Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kenya and discusses implications of restricted civil society space for the World Bank’s development goals.
The following is a list of recommendations that can pave the road towards participatory development. It was proposed to the Bank in this session.
- The Bank should systematically analyze the environment for freedom of assembly, speech and association in the system country diagnostic (SCD), a document that identifies key hurdles for development. The lack of civic engagement and social accountability is a key hurdle for development. Thus, it should be addressed in the SCD for all countries.
- World Bank Group President, Dr. Kim, and VPs should consistently raise the issue of space for CSOs in dialogues with high ranking government officials of borrower countries. Country directors should also address this topic in core conversations with government officials.
- The Bank should emphasize the importance of all forms of criticisms for all projects. Criticism is key, it is wrong for governments to denounce critics of development projects and call them anti-development when in fact they are for sustainable development. Thus, the Bank should take all necessary measures to mitigate risks of all forms of threats, attacks, or reprisals to community members, workers, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations for participating in project development, for criticizing or opposing a project.
- The Bank must undertake due diligence at the project level to ensure that they are not contributing to human rights violations. They need to consider the space for civic engagement and social accountability when analyzing the risk to propose projects. When the Bank is operating in a country with a record in human rights violations, they need to work extra hard to create a space in which citizens can participate and complain in when things go wrong. The Bank can do this by including a clause in their loan covenant with the company they are investing in or the borrower country that there will be a space for citizens to participate and complain.
Finally, two key opportunities that the Bank has before it were mentioned during the session in which the Bank can incorporate these recommendations. The first one being the World Development Report on Governance and Law. The second being the Safeguards Policy Review which places an increasing onus on borrower governments to do due diligence in projects financed by the Bank. This is problematic in countries where citizens cannot speak freely. Thus the recommendation is that the Bank itself needs to: 1) analyze where there are problems in challenging countries, 2) administer consultations with project effective communities, and 3) ensure that stakeholder engagement is addressed when implementing new borrower frameworks.