Is the World Bank’s Inspection Panel due for a rethink?

An eligibility visit to the Rio Bogotá Environmental Recuperation and Flood Control Project in Colombia. Photo by: World Bank Inspection Panel

WASHINGTON —  As the World Bank embarks on an ambitious “maximizing finance for development” strategy that involves an increasing role for the private sector, its board is reviewing its complaints mechanisms in a bid to more effectively promote accountability for the communities in which it works.

This year’s World Bank Annual Meetings are full of talk about how the giant multilateral can transform “billions to trillions” and “cascade” private sector funding into development projects.  This ultimately means using World Bank funding in new and clever ways to entice private and institutional investors into supporting schemes that have development impact — namely large infrastructure — and also target fragile and conflict-afflicted countries.

This has caused alarm among some civil society groups who fear greater private sector involvement will weaken environmental and social standards within projects and that local communities may suffer. Similarly, going deeper into fragile countries will also create more risks, they say, due to poor or nonexistent regulatory and governance capacity.

In a move that may help allay fears, the World Bank’s board of executive directors has initiated a review of the Inspection Panel — the independent complaints mechanism for people and communities adversely affected by bank-funded projects. Due to be completed by next spring, the review is designed to “ascertain the boundaries of the inspection panel,” identify potential “accountability gaps,” and also address specific questions around the panel’s mandate, eligibility criteria, and other issues, according to Otaviano Canuto, an executive director at the bank and chair of the Committee on Development Effectiveness, which is leading the review process.


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