IMF and World Bank Are Out of Control

by Russell Mokhiber And Robert Weissman

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are institutions out of control.

For evidence, consider the institutions’ feeble and fatally flawed debt relief program. Under their Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, the world’s poorest countries can receive reduction of approximately one third of their current payments to overseas creditors — if they endure six years of closely monitored, extremely intrusive “structural adjustment.”

Structural adjustment is the policy package that includes such measures as indiscriminate privatization, labor market deregulation, government spending cuts, trade and financial liberalization, economic deregulation, an emphasis on exports and charges (“user fees”) for people to attend clinics for basic healthcare.

HIPC is the institutions’ most important fig-leaf, a program designed to obscure the view of the harm they are doing to poor countries. The World Bank and IMF regularly tout HIPC as a sign of their responsiveness to the poor.

But now the HIPC initiative is beginning to collapse, even on its own terms. In April, during their spring meetings, the IMF and Bank announced that several of the countries that have qualified for debt relief by suffering through the first three years of mandated structural adjustment are about to lose their debt relief eligibility. The charge: they have failed to implement structural adjustment conditions with sufficient vigor.

Apparently, the Bank and Fund cannot control themselves. They want to exact more blood from the world’s poorest countries, even when they must know it will sabotage their public relations campaign.

There is, however, now an opportunity to rein in the Bank and Fund.

This year, the World Bank is seeking new monies for its International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the Bank that lends to the poorest countries.

Getting the U.S. contribution to IDA will require a vote by the U.S. Congress.

A broad coalition of U.S. environmental, development, religious, labor and global justice organizations has formed to demand that if the United States decides to contribute to IDA — a near certainty — that it also work for policies that will reduce the IMF and Bank’s power. (Essential Action is part of this coalition.)

The coalition is drawing on a successful initiative of the year 2000, when the Congress enacted a law requiring the U.S. representatives to the World Bank and IMF to vote against projects or loans that included user fees for primary education or healthcare.

The Treasury Department, which manages U.S. policy at the Bank and Fund, invented a duplicitous reading of the legislative language to avoid carrying out Congressional intent, especially on healthcare user fees.

But the passage of the law helped force a reconsideration of education user fees. Now the World Bank, which for 15 years has encouraged school fees, is actively working to help countries remove such charges. In Tanzania, the recent elimination of school fees enabled 1.5 million children, who otherwise would have been locked out, to go to school.

The coalition is now urging the United States to oppose loans or projects that include a range of harmful provisions, including restrictions on labor rights, increased water charges for the poor, environmentally hazardous practices such as aggressive pesticide use, privatization without safeguards for workers and protections against corruption, and privatization of tobacco enterprises. (For details on the proposals, click here.)

The coalition is also proposing the IDA appropriation be accompanied by new U.S. support for debt cancellation for the poorest countries. social and environmental assessments of structural adjustment — conducted before such policies are put into place — and requirements that the World Bank measure the effectiveness of its project loans.

Some set of these proposals will appear in an IDA authorization bill, which will be considered by the House financial services committee and the Senate foreign relations committee over the summer, as well as in the foreign operations appropriations bill, which is sure to pass by the end of the Congressional term.

It is sad and pathetic that these reforms, limiting the ability of the World Bank and IMF to do harm, must come from the U.S. Congress. Sad, because institutions that claim to be devoted to eradicating poverty should not need such external discipline. Pathetic, because it is not people in affected countries who have the ability to influence the institutions’ policies, but uniquely the citizens of the United States.

With that power and influence comes obligation. The Treasury Department will oppose the coalition’s proposals, if for no other reason than it does not like Congress trying to direct policy toward the Bank and IMF. It will take an expression of citizen concern to overcome the Treasury Department’s obstruction.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999.

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate