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November 17, 2003


New book looks at World Bank's accountability efforts

Tibetans protesting at the World Bank
Photo: Dana Clark

Jonathan Fox, professor of Latin American and Latino studies, is coeditor of the new book, Demanding Accountability: Civil Society Claims and the World Bank Inspection Panel (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield).

Fox and coeditors Dana Clark and Kay Treakle examined the World Bank’s Inspection Panel to measure its impact as a civil society tool of accountability.

The World Bank has been a lightning rod for transnational protest for at least two decades, foreshadowing today’s debate over economic globalization, according to the editors. Created by the bank’s board in 1993 in response to unprecedented pressures, the Inspection Panel was designed to allow local people affected by bank-funded projects to file complaints and request independent investigations into whether or not the bank complied with its own environmental and social policies.

Calling this experiment a test case of "accountability politics," the editors conclude that the panel has created the opportunity for people negatively affected by bank projects to gain some degree of international standing, access to transnational public interest allies, potential global media coverage, and the possibility of some tangible changes in bank projects.

But they note that bank management and staff have tended to react defensively to the threat of exposure of noncompliance with the institution’s environmental and social reform commitments. For the experiment to increase its effectiveness, public interest groups and insider reformers need to help build "mutually empowering coalitions."

Despite the uncertainties, the editors conclude that the Inspection Panel is a "significant test case of civil society actors’ capacity to promote, use, and empower institutional checks and balances."

The book was published simultaneously in India, and a Spanish-language edition will be published in Argentina in early 2004. A summary is being published in Japanese, and a French summary is being prepared for West Africa.

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