Waiting for Justice

Thursday, February 1, 2007

February 1, 2007

by Ann-Kathrin Schneider

This is an open plea to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to take responsibility for the Bank's failed projects, and to make amends to those harmed by its failures.

A 2006 investigation by the Inspection Panel, the World Bank’s appeals mechanism, found that a Bank project in Pakistan, the National Drainage Program (NDP), violated six of the Bank’s safeguard policies, including those that govern the protection of natural habitats and the resettlement of people. The project's flaws led to the loss of lives and livelihoods and to the large-scale destruction of ecosystems.

The project includes a large drainage canal that transports agricultural effluent to the sea. Breaches in the canal caused polluted waters to flow onto fields and wetlands surrounding the canal. Plants and animals in the wetlands, where 15,000 people live, have died, fish species are declining and drinking water has become salty. Natural disasters, notably the 2003 floods where more than 100 people died and 5,000 animals perished were compounded by the NDP project, according to the Inspection Panel investigation. Families in Southern Pakistan recount: “Before the floods all of us raised sheep and goats. We had about 500 sheep and 500 goats. All our sheep and goats died. For the last two years our children have not had any milk. They are often sick.”

The people affected by the project now demand compensation. They demand that the Bank give grants to those who lost family members in the 2003 floods and to those who lost land and safe drinking water. They demand that the Bank support them in finding alternative livelihoods. They demand the rehabilitation of destroyed ecosystems. And they demand that those responsible for the project's faulty design and implementation be held accountable for the destruction that resulted.

The Bank, however, is not holding anybody accountable for the effects of this project. This wealthy institution, with a mandate from 180 member countries to fight global poverty, does not grant reparations to people who suffer the consequences of its interventions.

The people from Southern Sindh who requested the inspection of their case are stunned by their lack of recourse. “After all these efforts and repeated demands, the poor communities of the area are still waiting for justice. The plan of action prepared by the [World Bank] management to address the issues raised in the inspection request and found correct by the panel of experts seems a joke on the entire accountability mechanism and justice system,” the requesters wrote in a response to the World Bank.

Sadly, the situation does not come as a surprise to long-time Inspection Panel observers. “Another strong Inspection Panel report and weak follow-up? There are always problems with the Management response,” says David Hunter, an expert in international law. He suggests that the Inspection Panel and its strong reports remain ineffective in part because the panel is not given any role in the follow-up to its recommendations. In the Pakistan case, as in many other previous Inspection Panel investigations, the Panel’s work is finished when its report is delivered. It has rarely been given any role in monitoring or follow-up. “Unfortunately, as soon as the Panel’s scrutiny ends, the Bank is free to return to business as usual,” says Hunter.

Some within the World Bank appear to agree that only a stronger follow-up role for the Panel can fix the broken accountability chain. At a recent meeting in Brussels with Executive Directors of European member states, some told IRN that they had demanded a role for the Inspection Panel in the follow-up to the publication of their Pakistan report. But this does not appear to have been a consensus position within the Bank, and the Inspection Panel continues to be excluded from any follow-up activities to its Pakistan report. The fact that major World Bank projects have increased poverty and misery, and that there is no recourse for fixing the problems discovered by the Inspection Panel, displays not only a lack of accountability, but is also a corruption of the very spirit of the Bank’s mission to reduce poverty.

President Wolfowitz is responsible for the Bank’s handling of this case, and for the institutional unwillingness to fix the Bank’s broken accountability chain. If he is serious about fighting corruption and building accountable institutions, he needs to make the institution accountable to the people who are affected by its projects and to ensure that the Bank takes responsibility for its actions. Giving the Inspection Panel the responsibility to follow-up on its reports would be an important first step.