The World Bank has incorporated a new dialogue with civil society groups from African countries into its objective of ensuring successful implementation of projects it has launched in developing nations. Earlier this month at its annual Washington meeting, civil society groups were invited to attend briefings with Bank officials and finance ministers to address a number of concerns about holding participants responsible for projects to serve the needs for which they were created. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who directs the Nigeria branch of Transparency International, says that adding local input to the dialogue will open up a new dimension of accountability that will help the projects’ chances of success.
“The Bank is helping to create this enabling environment of dialogue between the government and the civil society groups which does not exist in many of the countries in Africa and in developing countries. So we see this as an opportunity for engaging at the higher levels of government,” he said.
Finance ministers and bankers from virtually every country in Africa attended this month’s World Bank-International Monetary Fund deliberations in Washington. Participatation in this first three-way encounter with civil society groups was less extensive. It included activists from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Uganda, and Tanzania. Transparency International’s Rafsanjani says discussion ranged from agriculture to helping people with disabilities.
“In terms of the areas that these civil society groups discussed extensively with the Bank’s officials and the ministers of finance included agriculture, climate change, and a framework for transparency and accountability in the Bank. It also discussed issues of administering for people with disabilities because most projects did not take into consideration (the needs) of people with disabilities while implementing those projects. Also, areas that civil societies were much interested in included also revenue transparency on extractive issues. We also discussed water. We also discussed the food crisis,” he noted.
Civil society groups have pushed hard for the new dialogue, not only to get their ideas across to Bank executives, but also as a useful channel reaching officials in their own countries whom in many cases they would not have had the access or resources to contact. Rafsanjani credits the Bank for realizing the importance of opening up this new channel.
“It is a good principle in many civil societies to express some of their concern and frustration to the Bank directly without any barrier. It is also another opportunity for the groups to tell their governments, who would never give them while sitting in their countries to dialogue with them, to say, ‘Look, you can’t continue to be borrowing money for canceling projects. You have borrowed a lot of money, and we have not seen the impact.’ So that whenever you are implementing any projects, it is in the interest of the people. And the civil society this time around will now be carefully monitoring the implementation of this World Bank projects in their country,” he said.
For local advocacy groups, particularly in the case of Nigeria, the new dialogue also offers an opportunity to stop corruption from seeping into urgently needed public works. Rafsanjani says he hopes the constructive engagement with governments and the Bank will continue, not only at the international level, but will also find a way to “be mainstreamed at national levels.”