Following Burmese civil society and ethnic organizations’ letter to the World Bank Board and management about concerns over a rushed and secretive consultation process, the World Bank responds and posts the summary Interim Strategy Note for Burma
The posted summary Interim Strategy Note (ISN) for Burma outlines the World Bank’s planned activities over the next 18 months. This is the first Bank ISN for Burma after nearly 25 years. ISNs are developed for countries with which the World Bank re-engages following a prolonged absence of Bank activities and funding or substantial political or economic change. The ISN for Burma will guide the Bank’s activities in the country until a medium-term country assistance strategy is adopted. ISNs are adopted after consultation between the World Bank, the national government, civil society, and other stakeholders.
Burmese CSOs and ethnic groups sent a letter to the World Bank on August 7, 2012, the same day that management provided a briefing to the Board about the progress of their re-engagement in Burma. The letter stated that the World Bank did not engage in a transparent and meaningful manner with civil society actors in Burma and CSOs accused the in-country consultation process of being secretive, rushed, and top-down.
While the responsiveness of the World Bank to the CSO letter can be an indication that the institution takes organized civil society calls into consideration, it remains to be seen whether the Bank can maintain maximum transparency considering the fragile and limited reforms in the country. Does the Bank need to be reminded often to observe this basic standard of disclosure and consultation? The Bank has yet to respond to the substantive recommendations on the ISN as outlined in the letter. The full text of the CSO letter to the World Bank’s Board of Directors can be found below:
7 August 2012[Name of Board Member] [Country] Executive Director
Word Bank Group
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433 USA
Dear Director [Last Name],
It is our understanding that the World Bank staff will provide the Board of Directors a briefing on Burma this coming Tuesday, 7 August 2012. While there is no disclosure about the scope and purpose of the briefing, we would like to inform you of our concerns with the Bank’s reengagement activities in our country that are apparently moving quickly. We feel that these activities have been rushed, secretive and top-down.
Since early this year, we have initiated discussions with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank as they seek to rebuild their relations with Burma. We believe the current reform process, however fragile and limited, presents opportunities for the World Bank to practice good governance which involves a transparent, participatory and meaningful approach to multi-stakeholder consultations, economic assessments, technical assistance and development of country assistance strategy. Until now, the World Bank has failed to demonstrate that the institution is indeed adhering to these standards. The flawed process in designing the interim strategy note (ISN) is a case in point.
We learned last Friday, 3 August 2012 that the World Bank is pressing forward with its ISN. The World Bank staff told our colleagues that they had already completed consultations on the note inside Burma and would schedule a consultation in Bangkok within the next couple of weeks. They assured our colleagues that the consultations were taking place with a summary of what would be in the note and a power point presentation. The interim strategy note is scheduled to go before the Board on October 30, 2012 and run for 18 months.
While there have been some informal meetings with World Bank staff and some civil society networks, community organizations, and church-based groups in Rangoon and on the border, there was never any mention of the ISN, let alone formal consultations. We were not informed that such consultations occurred, and no consultation approach, consultation materials, guide questions, location or timeline were ever disclosed. The outcomes of the consultation and the draft ISN are not even posted online.
The ISN design process is supposed to provide a space for non-state actors to feed into the process our view on the challenges to development, the priority areas to which the Bank’s resources should be utilized (and shouldn’t be utilized), and what potential risks and precautions the Bank must consider before the Bank starts its lending and non-lending services. This important discussion did not take place because the in-country consultation process was rushed, secretive and top down. The Bank’s failure to consult our organizations and the constituencies with whom we work means that it missed the opportunity to secure broad nationwide support.
Before moving any further with the ISN, we urge the World Bank Board of Directors to ensure that Management employs a democratic approach to development decision-making. The World Bank must:
1. Ensure a transparent and participatory approach to consultations through the following:
i. Draft and publish a clear consultation plan ahead of consultations. The consultation plan must include a statement on the context, proposed pillars and objectives of ISN; consultation approach to non-state actors such as representatives from ethnic groups, registered and unregistered organizations, religious groups and other civil society inside Burma and on the border, the IDPs and refugees, and Burmese experts and academics.
ii. Disclose the timeline, location, consultation materials and guide questions in Burmese, English, and other relevant ethnic languages at least 60 days before consultation. The draft ISN and consultation outcomes should also be posted online.
iii. Disclose the findings of various assessments and analysis undertaken by the World Bank as soon as they are available including a Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Review (PEMFAR) and Qualitative Social and Economic Monitoring. The result of these studies must be made accessible to public to facilitate informed consultation and to maximize the impact of such important analytical work more generally.
iv. Other than Burma’s key cities, organize consultations in Bangkok and Mae Sot – key areas in Thailand where Burma’s civil society and ethnic community-based organizations working with the IDPs, women and communities affected by development projects and human rights violations are located. Consultations must also run with the help of an external facilitator.
2. Ensure that the ISN is focused and does not cover sectors where there are no completed studies and investments that could trigger huge political risks and irreversible social and environmental damage, which are beyond the institutional capacity of the government to manage. We believe that the next 2 years is a crucial period for the Bank to:
i. Focus on supporting the Burma government’s (and other stakeholders’) capacity in fiscal transparency and accountability before lending. We believe the government needs to be capacitated in adhering to the Bank’s standards on governance and anti-corruption, contract and revenue transparency, procurement policy and relevant fiscal management in development finance.
ii. Ensure that any support for social service delivery and community development programs is based on the urgent needs and priorities identified in the consultations.
iii. Insist that significant progress be achieved with respect to financial transparency and accountability, as well as poverty alleviation, prior to considering support for projects in other areas.
iv. Require that any such proposed projects in Burma go forward only after specific human rights safeguards have been rigorously implemented. The history of rights abuses and corruption in Burma particularly in relation to infrastructure projects, coupled with the country’s history of economic isolation, underscores the importance of analyzing the potential impact of proposed IFI projects on human rights and taking steps to mitigate any adverse impacts. The World Bank should undertake human rights impact assessments on any proposed projects in Burma and an action plan to mitigate potential adverse rights impacts, ahead of board consideration.
v. Refrain from funding any large-scale, high risk infrastructure projects with the public sector and private companies until (a) sufficient sector analysis and strategies are developed and published; (b) safeguards assessments and design based on the Bank’s disclosure, accountability and environmental and social policies are completed; and (c) mitigation plans are in place.
vi. Ensure that the strategy document for community-driven development programs using the State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF) is disclosed before individual projects begin. Since such projects are to be implemented in ethnic areas with ongoing armed conflicts or areas where ceasefires are at risk of being breached, it is important that such a strategy is subjected to broad consultation and projects are not rushed.
We respectfully request your office to discuss the above issues with Management and ask for a written response that will address our concerns and specific recommendations. We also welcome the opportunity to discuss the next steps moving forward.
Burma: World Bank Grant Could ‘Exacerbate’ Problems In Border Regions, Democratic Voice of Burma in Eurasia Review, August 11, 2012
World Bank Prepares Interim Strategy Note for Myanmar, The World Bank, August 10, 2012