World Bank Management Report on Cambodia acknowledges past mistakes and future challenges

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on yesterday’s post on the World Bank Executive Board’s consideration of an Inspection Panel report on Cambodia, a full Management Report and Recommendations is available today. All documentation related to the case including the underlying Investigation Report discussed yesterday and today’s Management Report are available on a dedicated page of the Inspection Panel website.

In brief, the Management Report presents a forthright picture of the difficulties encountered in carrying out a complex land administration reform and titling project with multiple objectives in a socio-political context that is difficult to reconcile (to say the least) with classic rule of law principles (for a concise and highly instructive description of the peripheral role occupied by formal law in Cambodia, TN readers are referred to a 2008 Briefing Note by the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program).

The Management Report includes an interesting set of lessons learned (pages 19-20), including the insight that outsourcing the issue of tenure security for the urban poor to parallel programs without ensuring coordination and nationwide coverage constituted a significant risk factor. It goes on to note the continuing deadlock with the Cambodian government over urban tenure security issues but nevertheless calls renewed efforts, including:

…engagement at the highest level of Government with the objective of gaining support … (a) to support affected communities in the [Boeung Kak Lake] area in a manner that responds to their development and livelihood needs; and (b) to ensure that any communities that need to be resettled in the future benefit from a resettlement policy that meets appropriate standards and have recourse to fair and independent dispute resolution mechanisms. (para. 73)

Pending achievement of these benchmarks, the Bank reiterates an appeal made in July 2009, together with other development partners, for a moratorium on urban forced evictions. Despite repeated affirmations that the Bank has been right to engage with land issues in Cambodia in the past, the Management Report acknowledges that continuing to do so in the face of Government intransigence would be counterproductive in the future. The Report also makes veiled reference to the possibility of downgrading the Bank’s overall engagement in Cambodia pending resolution of the tenure security issue:

Management proposes to report back to the Board on the implementation of the revised Action Plan within 60 days of the Board Discussion of this Management Report and Recommendation ….  If there is continued lack of willingness to cooperate on addressing the [Boeung Kak Lake] resettlement issue, Management would anticipate reviewing all current and proposed support to the Government in the land sector and carefully take into account the Government’s position in considering the magnitude and focus of future Bank support to Cambodia.

The Press Release accompanying the report strikes a determined but somewhat sunnier tone, and does not include reference to the possibility of reviewing the Bank’s future activities. This seems to me to be in the nature of press releases, but it is also hard not to speculate that the public line may also reflect the fact that Western donors no longer enjoy the monopoly of influence that their previously indispensable contributions to the national GNP afforded.

As posted on previously here, should the World Bank decide to pull up stakes, others with fewer scruples about development-induced displacement would no doubt be waiting in the wings.

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7 responses to “World Bank Management Report on Cambodia acknowledges past mistakes and future challenges

  1. Pingback: Next steps in Cambodia | TerraNullius

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