by Rhodri C. Williams
Nearly six weeks have passed since the Board of the World Bank issued a Report acknowledging both specific failures previously identified by the Bank’s Inspection Panel in the implementation of land programming in Cambodia as well as the general dilemma of working with a government whose past approach to land issues might fairly be described as predatory.
As described at the time in TN, one of the main findings of the Report was that the Bank had no choice but to continue to engage with the Cambodian Government on land issues until it was clear that such engagement was counterproductive. Although the Board implied that it might review its broader programming in Cambodia, it did so in an oblique manner, perhaps reflecting the fact that the arrival of investors such as China has reduced its bargaining power.
In a recent commentary for the Bretton Woods Project, Cambodia experts David Pred and Natalie Bugalski (who will, with any luck, grace these pages with another guest posting soon), highlighted the dilemma faced by a bank with declining leverage over borrowing governments and increasing commitments to be accountable to those affected by the projects it funds:
The predicament in which the Bank finds itself highlights the limits of its ability to be accountable to those harmed by its projects – even if it wants to be. The institutional architecture of the Bank requires it to rely on the cooperation of borrowing governments in any effort to remedy harms resulting from safeguard policy violations. This structure becomes highly problematic when the government in question is notoriously unaccountable to its own people and is the perpetrator of the violations at hand.
More than 15 years since the establishment of the Inspection Panel, there continues to be no guarantee that claimants whose rights are vindicated by the Panel will receive any remedy whatsoever. If the Bank continues to lend to governments that consistently violate safeguard policy obligations and refuse to remedy harm, then it must be prepared to provide reparations unilaterally. In the absence of such a redress mechanism, the Bank will continue to suffer from an accountability deficit and demands for stripping the Bank’s legal immunity will grow ever louder.
With a sixty day deadline for the Bank’s management in Cambodia to report back to the Board on the implementation of its ‘revised Action Plan’ looming, the signs are not all good. In a piece in the Diplomat blog late last month, Irwin Loy noted that little had changed in the Phnom Penh neighborhood of Boeung Kak, where the whole controversy started. An eviction order issued around the same time as the Bank’s Report still stood, and residents were taking painful decisions to settle at the risk of losing everything. With a few weeks remaining, the Bank has a hard but important row to hoe.