The World Bank is currently keen about improving its image and being seen as a friend of the poor around the world.
Established over half a century ago, the World Bank was originally meant to finance international reconstruction after the destruction caused by World War II. The bank specialized in the financing of projects conducted by the public sectors in the Third World developing countries.
The role of the World Bank continued to develop and expand. It contributed to the creation of big governments and large public sectors in the developing world before it did an about-face and started to advocate privatization. The bank created many subsidiaries specializing in specific activities which formed the all-powerful World Bank Group.
After the end of the cold war, a decade ago, the world witnessed the emergence of the so-called Washington consensus, which is a set of new economic policies advocated by the US State Department, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Sooner than later, the Washington consensus came under sharp criticism, and the World Bank earned its latest label as a leading institution of globalization, side-by-side with its sister institution the IMF and the World Trade Organization.
Since the World Bank wholeheartedly adopted globalization and privatization as an ideology, it became a target for protesters and demonstrators. So much so that its annual meeting in one of the capitals became a security hazard that threatened the stability of the host country and required the full mobilization of police forces to protect participants and allow the meeting to proceed peacefully.
Under these circumstances, the World Bank started to be perceived as the devil's advocate or the guardian of the interest of great powers and multinational corporations at the expense of the developing countries and their disadvantaged poor, which cannot stand competition with the advanced world on equal footing in a free and open market environment. It is no wonder that the World Bank is now trying hard to modify its image and paint itself as a social reformer attacking poverty and trying to help the poor.
This is evidenced by its latest World Development Report 2000/2001 which focused on the theme “Attacking Poverty” which represents the World Bank's most detailed investigation of global poverty yet and that seeks to expand our understanding of poverty and its causes, and sets out actions to create a world free of poverty in all its dimensions.
The report argues that major reductions in all forms of poverty are possible. The interaction of markets, state institutions, and civil society can harness the forces of economic integration and technological change to serve the interests of the poor, and to increase their share of society's prosperity. To this end, the report recommends that developing country governments at all levels and the development community in general work to mobilize behind three priorities:
• Opportunity: Expand economic opportunities for poor people through growth, ensuring better access to markets, and increasing assets and education.
• Empowerment: Make state institutions more responsive to poor people and remove social barriers that exclude women, ethnic and racial groups.
• Security: Provide mechanisms to reduce the sources of vulnerability: Economic shocks, crop failure, unemployment, and other burdens to poor people.
The World Bank has yet to show evidence that it is serious about devoting a major part of its financial and technical resources to combat poverty head-on.
Let us hope that the report was not merely a public relations exercise or an image repairing endeavor and that the heartless institution will, under popular pressure, acquire a human heart! ― (Jordan Times)
By Fahed Fanek
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)