World Bank VP Blasts Draft Governance Strategy Report

12 August 2016

The World Bank vice president who oversees strategy on governance issues has criticized a draft report recommending that the Bank focus more on unequal national political power as a key inhibitor of development.

Jan Walliser expressed “strong reservations” about the report in a four-page memo obtained by FreedomInfo.org. He asks that “the conceptual framework” of the report “be significantly recast and broadened.” Walliser is Vice President, Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions (EFI).

His memo noted what he described as “voluminous and often critical” reaction to the report from within the Bank, specifically from VPUs, referring to the Vice Presidential Units (VPUs) that administer the work program of the Bank.

The subject of their criticisms is a draft World Development Report, a prestigious and often influential annual Bank report that focuses on different themes every year.

The yet nonpublic 415-page report about governance, obtained by FreedomInfo.org Aug. 1, stresses that more attention be paid to national political dynamics and power sources when designing development programs. (See FreedomInfo.org summary.) “Policies can be blocked, captured, or rendered ineffective because their design did not account for asymmetries in bargaining power,” the report emphasizes, calling for more intensified and sophisticated evaluation.

Early reviews from non-governmental organization leaders have supported the emphasis on power analysis while making suggestions to strengthen it. (See July 28 FreedomInfo.org report.)

Back to the Drawing Board?

In Walliser’s view, the report has an “excessively narrow optic on unequal power,” is based on “weak empirical evidence” and “significantly misses the opportunity to reach policy makers and developmental practitioners with a `road map’ of the policies required to sustain and promote governance reforms.”

Walliser says the report’s authors (about two dozen Bank staffers) fail to support the contention that unequal power leads to inequitable development outcomes. Other perspectives deserve more attention, he says, “citing “Coordination and Commitment” and the “non- coercive power of persuasion.”

“A more ecumenical approach would allow for much richer policy discussions, yes, dealing with power asymmetries, but also a wide range of more prosaic issues, many of which we already work on as the Bank,” Walliser instructs.

In a sharp conclusion, he states, “Conceptually the mechanisms here remain undeveloped in the report and empirically the dominance of the unequal power dynamic is only slightly beyond conjecture.”

The copy of Walliser’s letter sent anonymously to Freedominfo.org is undated, but one source put the date at July 9. It refers to an internal “Monday” meeting at which the report is/was to be debated. The letter is addressed to “Kaushik and WDR team,” referring to Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank.

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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