A Serious Blow for the World Bank and
for Sensible Discussion of
June 14, 2000
Ravi Kanbur, lead author of the World Bank's forthcoming World Development Report (WDR) on Poverty, has tendered his resignation. He has sent a letter to senior Bank management expressing his concerns about what he saw as unreasonable pressure to tone down WDR sections on globalisation. Reliable Washington sources indicate that US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has got directly involved in re-writing the globalisation sections of this report, which is likely to be extremely prominent in future discussions of international issues and in guiding aid interventions. [APIC note: Before joining the U.S. Treasury as Deputy Secretary (1995-1999) and Secretary (1999- ), Lawrence H. Summers served as chief economist of the World Bank from 1991 to 1993, where he became infamous for a memorandum arguing that "under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted", since "a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lower cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages." Summers reportedly said the memorandum was written as a ironic thought experiment. For full text .
Ravi Kanbur, T. H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, Cornell University, was appointed by the Bank in Spring 1998 to lead the team writing this report. His writings and the genuine efforts he made to commission research from and consult a range of groups across the world have won him much respect. Many people had hoped the World Bank's report for this year might break new ground compared to its predecessors and open up debates on issues such as free trade and political disempowerment. Kanbur was at pains to stress that policy-makers must examine the detailed, disaggregated impacts on different population groups, rather than relying on general formulae. The organisations which have fed into this report are very concerned to know what will happen to it now that Kanbur has been forced out.
Alex Wilks, Coordinator of the Bretton Woods Project, commented: "The resignation of the lead author of this flagship Bank report confirms our view that the World Bank is unable to accept dissenting views, whether from insiders or outsiders. Coming soon after Joe Stiglitz departed as Chief Economist this is a major blow for an institution trying to position itself as a 'knowledge Bank' and a 'listening Bank'"
"It raises questions of who really calls the shots at the Bank and what evidence or opinions about the impacts of globalisation they are trying to suppress".
At Ravi Kanbur's request, the Bretton Woods Project and New Policy Institue ran an electronic conference to discuss the WDR first draft which (a first for the Bank) was disseminated in January this year. The conference attracted 1,523 people from over 80 countries. Many respondents felt that the draft WDR 2000/01 reflected real progress compared to its predecessors, with a increased examination of non-income dimensions of poverty and recognition of insecurity, voicelessness and powerlessness. It moved beyond national average figures on poverty incidence to examine the many factors which influence poverty outcomes for vulnerable population groups. A number of contributors, however, urged the WDR to be bolder in its conclusions, particularly on the political obstacles to implementing pro-poor policies, and the need for a rights-based approach to press Northern countries to do more on trade and environmental degradation. In his 19 May response to the conference, Kanbur said that his team was looking to strengthen their lines on some of these issues, in particular to: "revise the concluding recommendations to bring global actions to center stage".
Kanbur statement on process integrity
In a letter to the Bretton Woods Project of 17 July 1998 Kanbur stated:
"since you asked for my views, I wanted to let you know my own personal philosophy and perspective as we go into the processes leading up to the Poverty WDR. First and foremost, I want to stress that I would stand behind any Report that I put my name to, and would not submit to any substantive editing I did not agree with".
UK government funding, research input
Many UK organisations were involved in submitting research or engaging in consultations on the WDR. The UK government gave the Bank an additional grant of stlg750,000, aiming to help the report team "give a voice to poor people in the preparation of the World Bank's millenium World Development Report" [DFID News Release, 4 December, 1998]. A number of UK organisations, including Oxfam, IDS, ODI, Christian Aid and CREDIT contributed research to the report. The WDR's findings are likely to be influential on the drafting of the UK government's white paper on globalisation, due this November.
About the WDR
The Bank produces World Development Reports every year. The ones at the start of each decade, however, are the most influential as they take an overall look at the 1990 report was very influential in the Bank and for many aid agencies and researchers across the world. This WDR is due to be signed off by the Bank Board this month, then printed in time to be launched in mid-September, just before the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in Prague.
WDR's are officially not documents of the Executive Board of the World Bank, and is thus not an official policy document, it is a document prepared by the Chief Economist's staff, and therefore ultimately represents the views of staff and management. At the same time, the process of preparation of WDRs to become more consultative, to include views of outsiders. "There is no doubt that wide ranging consultation does indeed influence the team's thinking and perspective as alternative views are encountered and debated." (Newsletter Update on WDR 2000/01, No. 1, January 1999)
Bank President James Wolfensohn, stated in a letter to the Bretton Woods Project of 26 August, 1998 that "I view WDRs as being one of the Bank's critical instruments for dialogue with the development community at large. I have also emphasized that we should not just be reciting generic answers but raising fundamental questions to which there are no easy answers".
About Ravi Kanbur
Ravi Kanbur, the T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs at Cornell University is on leave of absence from his post for the academic year 1999-2000 to lead this report. A UK citizen, Kanbur was on the staff of the World Bank from 1989 to 1997, serving successively as Adviser, Senior Adviser, Resident Representative in Ghana, Chief Economist for Africa, and Principal Adviser to the Chief Economist.
About the Bretton Woods Project
The Bretton Woods Project works with UK-based NGOs to monitor the World Bank and IMF. Groups in the network which established the Project include Christian Aid, WWF, New Economics Foundation and World Development Movement. See: http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org
For more information on the e-conference, including a full archive of contributions.
For more general background on the WDR.
The letters and documents mentioned in this statement are all also available from the Bretton Woods Project by fax or post.
More Information on Ravi Kanbur
More Information on Internal Critics of the World Bank and the IMF
More Information on the World Bank
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