At home and abroad, more trouble for the World Bank

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim speaks to staff in Nairobi, Kenya. Bank officials tour member countries to get feedback on the financial institution’s new safeguards. Photo by: Dominic Chavez / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank’s controversial new safeguards are currently on tour, but so far the reception has been less than welcoming.

As part of a civil society consultation period, bank officials are spending the next four months traveling to member countries to meet with organizations and special interests groups to get feedback on the institution’s new safeguards, the social and environmental standards by which the World Bank designs, implements and evaluates projects.

The consultations are not off to great start, according to sources scheduled to attend the meetings.

“In the Philippines, the consultation stopped in the middle by groups that walked out of the meeting and staged a protest outside,” said Nezir Sinani, a representative the Bank Information Center, a World Bank watchdog.

The scene in Manila, and a similar protest in Brussels, he told Devex, looked a lot like the walk-outs that took place last month at the bank’s annual meetings. And the demonstrators have similar grievances: vague language and inadequate research, which they claim will leave groups like indigenous peoples and LGBT stakeholders vulnerable.

The World Bank recently postponed weeks worth of consultations, citing “materials that are not yet ready,” according to notifications forwarded to Devex by members of civil society. Consultations have yet to be rescheduled in Berlin, Yaounde and Ottawa, according to the notices.

The turbulent consultation process comes amid a brewing storm in the bank’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, where one employee has alleged that his printer was confiscated as part of an imminent investigation into leaked documents. The employee, Fabrice Houdart, claimed on an internal blog that he is being investigated for releasing the early safeguards draft in July.

Houdart became a figurehead for staff discontent earlier this summer when he blew the whistle on a $94,000 bonus to CFO Bertrand Badre.

“Of course, this is only a pretext,” Houdart wrote in an internal blog. “As a mere senior country officer for the Maghreb, I had no access to the highly confidential document that was leaked.”

The investigation, which couldn’t be confirmed by the bank’s press office, is drawing speculation from current and former bank staff.

“Given the sensitivity of the document and the internal concern over the document,” said Paul Cadario, senior fellow in Global Innovation at the University of Toronto and a former senior World Bank manager. “I would be surprised if there was only one source.”

Houdart maintains the apparent investigation is not about the leaks at all — but about his vocal opposition to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s reforms.

“This is how retaliation works: You are always accused of something else, not of blowing the whistle,” Houdart wrote.

For the time being, the bank’s safeguards revisions — and those who may or may not have leaked them — have become a focal point for those watching the rollout of Kim’s reforms. Look for more coverage from Devex in coming days as the safeguards debate — and the next step toward resolving it — takes shape.

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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