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World Bank Creates Inspection Panel

by Steven T. Weston

In September 1993, the World Bank voted to create an independent inspection panel to investigate complaints from parties in borrower countries who demonstrate that their rights or interests have been affected by the Bank's failure to act within its operating rules and procedures. An affected party is defined as an organization, association, or other grouping of individuals in the territory of the borrower. It can also include the local representatives of such parties.

"By establishing this panel, the bank has acknowledged that international organizations are directly accountable to those people adversely affected by their decisions," says American University Professor Daniel Bradlow. The inspection panel is modelled on Bradlow's proposal that the Bank appoint an ombudsman to review private complaints concerning Bank operations.

Although the panel has advisory powers, its creation is an important advancement by an international organization in holding itself more accountable to those affected by Bank operations, says Bradlow. The range of complaints that the inspection panel may consider covers almost all aspects of the design, appraisal, and implementation phases of Bank projects. The panel can inspect potential violations of the Bank's procedural regulations governing Bank conduct in projects which forcibly uproot people in borrower countries as well as its alleged failure to conduct proper investigations of proposed projects' environmental impact, required prior to the implementation of all major Bank projects.

After receiving requests for inspection by an affected group, the panel will notify the executive directors and will review the request to determine whether it meets eligibility criteria. Eligible complaints must allege that the affected party is or is likely to be directly and adversely affected by acts or omissions of the Bank that are inconsistent with its operational policies and procedures. Such requests cannot include complaints related to actions which are the responsibility of other parties, or issues pertaining to loans that have been substantially disbursed. Complaints can only relate to the rules and procedures that the Bank must follow.

The panel will recommend to the executive directors whether to investigate complaints. If the directors accept its recommendation the panel conducts all investigations and has access to all pertinent Bank records as well as to the Bank's staff and officers. Its findings are submitted to the executive directors and the Bank's president in the form of a written report. Furthermore, the executive directors will within two weeks inform the complainant of the results of the investigation and of any actions they have or will take. All complaints, findings, and recommendations will be public.

The efficiency and utility of this panel depends on the independence and credibility of the panelists and the way affected parties use the panel. The three-member panel will be appointed by the Bank's Board of Directors. Each panelist must come from a different Bank member country and will serve a single five-year term. Its members cannot have worked for the World Bank within two years prior to appointment or subsequent to the expiration of their term. These measures were created to ensure that the panel creates an effective forum for persons affected by World Bank operations.

Human rights organizations and other groups can participate in this process by developing a network of resources to ensure the independence and effectiveness of the panel. These groups may also assist affected groups in raising successful complaints. Preliminary steps human rights groups, environmental groups, and local organizations can take include: learning about Bank rules and procedures, carefully documenting actions of the Bank, identifying complaints for submission to the panel, and assisting local groups prepare written complaints. Handbooks on how to use the panel are being prepared.

The panel's work will become public record and can be used to bring pressure on the Bank to change unfair rules and practices. These reports may also be used to assert pressure to maintain an effective and independent panel and to monitor the Bank and executive directors' compliance with the funding and recommendations of the panel.

©Copyright 1994 The Human Rights Brief


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