The World Bank Inspection Panel: Amplifying Citizen Voices for Sustainable Development (1999) (Clark & Hunter)

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The Inspection Panel, which formally opened in 1994, is an innovative forum for those people most directly affected by World Bank projects to raise their concerns at the highest levels of the Bank. Projectaffected people can bring a claim to the Inspection Panel asking for an independent analysis of the Bank’s role in the project, and the extent to which the Bank has complied with its own policies and procedures. The claimants must be directly and adversely affected by the Bank’s alleged policy violations, and the subject matter of the claim must have been brought previously to the Bank without a satisfactory response to the problem. The Panel is by definition an avenue of last resort, to be used when the staff of the Bank have been unresponsive to the concerns of the affected people.

The Inspection Panel is a unique institutional development. It represents the first time that a global institution has created a direct line of access for citizens to monitor its own operations. By recognizing that nation-states are made up of individual stakeholders who have a legitimate role to play in International affairs, the Panel is a critical precedent for the democratization of international institutions generally.  The Inspection Panel does not only offer project-affected people a unique opportunity to enforce their rights to participate in the design, oversight and monitoring of Bank-financed projects; it also provides important opportunities for both the Board of Directors and Bank staff to Improve their performance in moving the Bank toward a sustainable development model.

Unfortunately, the Panel’s role and value have not been fully internalized either by the Board of Directors or by Bank management and staff. The result is that for two years now, the Panel has been under almost constant ‘review’ by the Board of Directors, and its recommendations and independence have been undermined by deep rifts at the Board level and suspicion from senior Bank management. As a result,the Panel has never been allowed to achieve its full potential for improving Bank performance. In the following sections we first revisit the potential benefits of the Panel process to the World Bank and then address some of the current impediments being placed in the way of an effective Panel.

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