Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Unhappy with World Bank, some try to choke off its funding

Activists angry at how World Bank policies affect developing countries are calling for a boycott of the bank bonds that provide the institution with much of its money

By John Madeley  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Activists opposed to World Bank -- and IMF -- policies in the developing world are calling for a boycott of the bonds the World Bank issues to help fund its work.

The bank -- and its sister organization the IMF -- are guilty of market fundamentalism, says Senegalese economist Demba Dembele, who is touring Europe to press home the dissenters' case. Bluntly he told a recent meeting in Oxford, England, that World Bank/IMF policies have in fact impoverished countries.

Dembele, the director of the Forum for African Alternatives in Senegal, claims Africa's poor are becoming poorer. And he is particularly critical of the World Bank's structural adjustment programs under which governments of African and other developing countries have had to liberalize their trade and reduce spending on services such as health care and education, as the price for aid and debt relief.

"It's market fundamentalism," he says and refutes the two organizations' claims that their polices are working.

But his claims are rejected by World Bank spokesman John Donaldson, who says that, on the contrary, the bank's lending has contributed in a major way to improving the lives of people in developing countries over the past 50 years. The bank is the world's largest multilateral aid agency and raises about 80 percent of its funds by issuing bonds and Donaldson said that if the boycott was successful it would harm the very people the campaigners were claiming to champion.

The boycott campaign was launched in the US in 2000 and was later joined by groups in Europe and in developing countries themselves. The aim is to discourage investors such as municipal authorities, pension funds, trade unions, churches and universities from buying the bank's bonds and thereby put the bank under pressure to change its policies.

Campaigners are calling for an end to the World Bank's structural adjustment policies, for 100 percent debt cancellation and for an end to what they argue are environmentally destructive projects, especially for oil, gas, mining and dam projects.

Those behind the boycott say they are inspired by the anti-apartheid movement. Prominent are Haitian, South African and Ecuadorian groups unhappy at the impact of the bank's policies on their countries.

Chelsea Mozen of the Netherlands-based World Bank Boycott Europe, which is sponsoring Dembele's tour, said that about 90 organizations worldwide have joined the bond boycott. Speaking at the end of the UK leg of Dembele's tour, Mozen said that a number of organizations in Britain had expressed interest in joining the boycott.

Dembele's tour through the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland culminates on June 1 at Evian in France, where leaders of the world's eight most powerful countries will assemble for the annual G8 meeting.

Donaldson said the bank welcomes analysis of its work to establish how it can do its job better and said the bank's activities were a matter of public record.

"[World Bank bonds] have made it possible to support the development plans of borrowing countries at the lowest possible cost," he said. He warned, "In the unlikely event that this boycott had an effect on our lending, it would raise the cost of funds for the very people over which these bond boycotters purport to be concerned -- those living in poverty in developing countries."

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