A delegation of parliamentarians from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas has come to Washington, DC, to protest the policies of the World Bank and IMF. The ten MPs will present a petition calling for democratic oversight of the international financial institutions.
The petition says elected members of parliament should be the ones to oversee and determine how World Bank and IMF loans are spent. They say despite promises to allow countries to determine their own economic policies, the international financial institutions continue to impose conditions on debt relief and loans. As a result, the MPs say the World Bank and IMF have veto power over local parliaments.
Washington Jakoyo Midiwo – a member of parliament from Kenya – says current policies stem from Cold War thinking, adding times have changed.
He says, "The truth is parliament is the only oversight organ in any country that oversees development, that oversights government. And as long as you leave parliament behind you cannot have accountability. I mean the only way to oversight government, to stop corruption, is to involve parliament."
British MP Tony Worthington agrees.
"Everyone makes a big talk about strengthening democracy. But how can you have democracy when main economic decisions don’t go anywhere near the parliaments of developing countries," he says.
And Teddy Kalebi of Malawi says parliaments should be involved in all phases of World Bank/IMF transactions with developing countries.
"The parliamentarians should be involved beginning from policy formulation, policy implementation and translating that into the budget aspect of those policies," he says.
About 1,000 legislators from 50 parliaments signed the petition presented to World Bank and IMF officials. The petition drive was organized by the Bretton Woods Project, a group that monitors the financial institutions, and the World Development Movement, which lobbies developed nations on policies affecting the poor.
Mr. Worthington – an MP from Britain’s Labor Party – says the success of World Bank and IMF programs depends on local involvement.
"If a policy is simply seen as being imposed on a country then it doesn’t take root in that country. The country doesn’t work for the success of that policy. And in the past what has happened with the World Bank and the IMF is they’ve tended to have a one-size fits all approach to economic development. And you can’t do that if it’s going to be successful. It’s just simply efficient to involve the people who are elected by the people of that country," he says.
Mr. Midiwo - of Kenya’s ruling National Rainbow Coalition - says parliamentary involvement would trigger “home grown solutions” and decrease the likelihood of “handouts.”
"Parliament is the connection between government and the people. And parliamentarians are the representatives of the people and you cannot purport to be doing development to help the people they represent without their involvement," he says.
Malawi Congress Party MP Teddy Kalebi says conditions on loans and debt relief have often had unintended consequences.
"Some of the conditionalities that have been put forward regarding implementation of activities – especially finances that have been given by the World Bank and IMF – have not always added into the benefits expected. And that has caused a lot of hardships for most people in the developing countries." he says.
Tony Worthington says the policy changes are needed if sub-Saharan Africa is to take full advantage of World Bank/IMF assistance – including debt relief.
He says, "Unless we get particularly Africa moving, it is going to be a burden on itself. And it’s going to be a security threat, an economic black hole. That is just not satisfactory for world development."
The parliamentarians say they hope incoming World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz will agree that change is needed.
Upon his election as World Bank head, Mr. Wolfowitz said, "Nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need and developing opportunities for all the people of the world to achieve their full potential." He also said he has “a new appreciation for the urgent need for debt relief.” Mr. Wolfowitz begins his five-year term on June First.
Current World Bank President James Wolfensohn says he doubts an agreement on debt relief will be reached at the Washington meeting.