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Rodrigo De Rato and Paul Wolfowitz Informal Discussion with CSOs

De Rato and Wolfowitz Informal Discussion with CSOs
Thursday, September 14, 2006

De Rato: We [engage with civil society] in Washington; we do this in the Annual meetings and we do this on our different trips and we consider this a very important part of the  uplifting of the quality of the work  in the national and financial institutions.

I want to refer to the issue of some of your colleagues who have not yet been cleared by the authorities.  We have clearly expressed to the authorities, both Paul and myself, our commitment to have everybody on board here in Singapore.  And to refer to these people as people we know well , working with us on different occasions and that we found their presence here very important. In any respect, in tomorrow's Roundtable, I think we should be able to talk with all of you, the ones who are here in Singapore and the ones who [are not] will be able to do it through the web.

Paul Wolfowitz: I don't think there's much I can add to that but I don't mind repeating from the perspective of the World Bank, that the dialogue with civil society is extremely important.  It is an important part of improving the quality of what we do, of learning about how the work that we are doing appears to people on the ground.

I think we have a common objective and that is to help the poor people of the world improve their lives and escape poverty, and its very important that we have an open conversation,  an open dialogue, to find out what is working and what isn't working, and how the work we think we are doing is being perceived by the most important people, who are the intended beneficiaries of our work.  And civil society plays a crucial role in that respect. I think we have been strengthening the quantity and quality of the dialogue over the past ten years, long before I got here.  I think this year's meetings here in Singapore are setting records in terms of the number of civil society organizations accredited and the number of different fora in which this kind of conversation can take place. As Rodrigo has just said, we are still trying to work with the authorities to get the remaining accredited members of civil society to be able to attend these meetings - that is very important to us.  I would also underscore, I think civil society in developing countries is a very important part of the development process itself.  Sometimes civil society organizations are the most effective means of delivering assistance to poor people.  They are often the most effective means of ensuring accountability and transparency on the part of authorities. So for us this is a very meaningful part of our work and we were looking forward to very successful engagement in Singapore -I'm still hoping to have it - and I certainly hope the issue of accreditation  will be resolved in a satisfactory way.

We have a few minutes for questions now …..

Paul O'Callaghan:  I am Paul O'Callaghan from the Australian Council for International Development, and together with about 20 colleagues, we have been involved with your respective organizations in helping to prepare the CSO program.  We are full of admiration for your teams that have really worked on that over the last 6-7 months. I guess my question is - is this as good it gets? In terms of the deal?  You've had a big surprise this week  with the decision by the Singapore Government.  We are shocked and pretty outraged that this has happened. We are also very disappointed that the outcome of peaceful assembly - we've tried over the last 7 months directly to lobby the Singapore Government. At every point they have refused to engage with us in every way. That has been astonishing to us.  Given that your organization decided several years ago that this is the country that should be hosting your meetings, -- and given your own commitments to civil society --  I realize that you've made statements publicly now and that you are lobbying directly today, but I come back to this question - is this how good it gets?  Here we are, we've got a lot of good people here - who have been involved in a serious engagement …. Our program is great and a lot of work has gone into preparing it, and it just seems that somehow the World Bank and the IMF are now ineffectual and end up looking very weak in the process.  Can you say something about that?

Paul Wolfowitz: I think you said - you made decisions several years ago.  I have to say I wasn't involved several years ago ….You get on a certain course with these things and that unfortunately does limit your options.  I think there is an important lesson to be learned about planning the future. I think we felt institutionally, I wasn't there in Dubai , we felt that somehow Dubai was able to create satisfactory conditions [for civil society to express its views] and frankly I would have thought Singapore could have done it at least as well.  I think the most unfortunate thing is what appears to be going back on the explicit agreement that was concluded some three years ago with the authorities, and I will keep referring to that. The delegates in question were accredited [according to our] rules by the relevant Executive Directors on our respective Boards.  These individuals are known to us and so far we have had no satisfactory explanation on why they are going back on what seems to be a very clear agreement.

CSO: Good morning - I have been traveling for 14 hrs - I am not sure what day it is. It is good to see President Wolfowitz again - you were in Nigeria; you met with CSOs there and you gave us a lot of hope and a lot of  vision about what you want to achieve in Africa. One of the things you did was to visit some of the community-based organizations, the women's groups.  One of the challenges that we are facing is that there seems to be another cadre of civil society who are more articulate, who are more western  in their ability to communicate with the international community,  who are not necessarily, speaking for us - we, the women and the ordinary person on the ground who does not have water, who does not have light, and who is wanting to engage in just building very basic requirements for our needs. We want to see, whether  -- maybe you can address this in the larger forum -- whether the World Bank or  IMF is actually putting the framework together where the voice of the people themselves, no CSOs who have somehow acquired a status and are being listened to because they are accredited to the World Bank or have the validity of the international community but not necessarily the validity of their people. I am wondering whether you are looking at getting  the framework where the real people, community-based organizations, community development  associations -- because these are the people that we work with -- are able to express their views and their needs to you.  Thank you.

Paul Wolfowitz: First of all the issue you raise is an important one. I think in this respect the voices you hear can be valid in two points.  First of al, whether they represent a large number of people or not, they know facts, and facts are always important. You can always learn. But then there is a second point which you are alluding to, which is: who does a particular group really speak for?  And obviously from the perspective of understanding the impact of our programs on people, we want [to engage with] people who really represent recipients of our assistance.  That is one of most impressive ways of moving forward in this regard.

In Indonesia we have a program called the Kecamatan Development Program -- excuse me, the Indonesians have such a program, but we also provided some of the thinking behind it --and it has been so successful in terms of getting a valid community response that the government has now decided to make it a nationwide program, putting I think a billion dollars a year in Indonesian money into spreading this out to all communities around the country.

This [program] was looked at by the Ethiopians when they were setting up a program that they started earlier this year called the protection of basic services program, trying to have civil society, individuals, and organizations which represent people of different levels, monitor programs and make sure that the results of what we are doing are getting to the people.

I don't know of any certain mechanism by which you can really measure how many people a particular group of individuals speaks for, but I do think that the more you can get people who are from different levels, people who really are among the population you are trying to serve, the more successful you will be.

I will give you one other example.  It was one of the most amazing days that I had, of many amazing days in this past year, and that was visiting Andhra Pradesh in India, which is a state bigger than most countries in the world -- I think that the population is 7 - 8 million people. And there is a program of self-help groups, which was started initially with some assistance from the UNDP, the World Bank, and by the state of Andhra Pradesh. Basically some 8 million families, mostly represented by women have been empowered not just with micro credit but with the ability to speak for people, and that was very impressive. Case by case it seems to happen.

Nessa: My name is Nessa Ni Chaisade from Debt for Development Coalition in Ireland. And from both of you, and your colleagues, before you we have heard that the World Bank and the IMF don't have the answer to the very fundamental questions that we raised about the banning of some of our civil society colleagues from entering Singapore.  You don't have answers to the reasons why these organizations were blacklisted; and you don't have explanations as to why the Singapore government has charged these institutions.  You don't have an answer as to what are the implications for the breach of the Memorandum of Understanding by the Singapore Government and that exists between the World Bank and the IMF.  And you also don't have an explanation as to what the next steps of the IMF and the World Bank will be in light of these developments for future Annual Meetings.  And in light of these gaps, can you both issue an official apology to our valued civil society colleagues who have been denied their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association and their right to come and express their views of resistance against the harmful and damaging impacts of World Bank/IMF policies in impoverished countries.

De Rato: First of all, the organizations accredited by us we believe should be here….and we are talking with the authorities to make that clear.  If tomorrow some of them won't be here for whatever reasons, independently of our engagements with them in the future and whatever explanation we can give to them, we will make all our efforts so that they can participate in the dialogue and make their opinions known in the meeting that will be held tomorrow afternoon.

Paul Wolfowitz:  I agree with that completely.  Let me also just add that you refer at the end to the opinions of these people -- I certainly hope their opinions are not the reason they are being excluded.  If their opinions are critical of our institutions, then it is all the more reason it is important for us to hear them.  We may or not agree, but it is very important that we hear that information.  Censorship -- if this is censorship, based on alleged views of the people, then it is even more serious a problem.

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