More World, Less Bank, says Bank.

Every time I’m surprised by the World Bank, it’s not because it’s an awful organization that’s discovered a new way to do much more harm than good. This is, of course, normal for the Bank, and one oughtn’t to be surprised by this. No, what always catches my breath is the chutzpah along the way. Today, the comrades over at the International Rivers Network have caught the World Bank at it again. It’s the usual story of environmental standards more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Except this time it’s slightly different.

The Bank isn’t, as in so many past occasions, merely violating its own standards. It has learned a lesson or two. After being hounded over the course of a decade of constructive engagement with civil society, during which it has consistently been caught failing to live up to its own environmental and social protocols, the lesson the Bank has taken away is, er, to dispense with the protocols.

In its new Middle Income Country strategy, the Bank has realised that its own requirements might be substituted for the considerably more lenient requirements of aforementioned middle income countries, in an effort to “remove obstacles to timely quality lending”. You’d think that such changes might at least summon a peep from the Bank’s own, albeit cowed, independent Inspection Panel. But no. In fact, the Bank has a job for the Inspection Panel. Under this new regime, the role of the panel would shift from holding the Bank to account, to admonishing middle income country governments in the event that they fail to measure up to their puny requirements.

But of course. The Bank didn’t set the standards, the middle income countries did. So why should the Bank be held responsible for the failings of its clients? They just give the money and set the terms.

Read more about the bureaucratic politics of the asylum here. And then rush out and read a magnificent history of responsibility, and how to dodge it. Nathalie Karagiannis’ book is a wonderful study of the institutional amnesia that has been allowed to supplant Europe’s erstwhile nagging conscience at having colonized everywhere that wasn’t Europe. It’s a great read, and a wonderful victory in the struggle of memory against forgetting.

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