On 27 September 2013, the World Bank hosted the Tenth Annual Meeting of Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) at its headquarters in Washington, DC. The World Bank created the first IAM twenty years ago when it established the World Bank Inspection Panel to handle the grievances of people affected by its projects. Today, nearly every international financial institution (IFI) has an IAM to provide: 1) a forum for dispute resolution between project-affected people and those implementing the project; and/or 2) a mechanism to ensure that the IFI is complying with its own policies and procedures in regard to specific projects.
At the meeting, Eimi Watanabe, the Chairperson of the Inspection Panel, made introductory remarks and introduced former Congressman Barney Frank, who worked to create the Inspection Panel, and Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. In his remarks, Mr. Kim noted that the World Bank needed to work to put people first in financing projects around the world. Afterward, a panel made up of World Bank management, top IAM staff, NGO staff, and two community members who had filed complaints with the Inspection Panel addressed issues
That afternoon, Accountability Counsel, along with several other NGOs, held an event at World Bank headquarters entitled “A Conversation With IAMs About the Promise of Remedy and Accountability”. The event brought together many top staff of IAMs from a number of IFIs, including the Principal of the European Investment Bank Complaints Mechanism, the Vice President of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudman the Chair of the African Development Bank Independent Review Mechanism, other IAM staff, and several NGOs who work on IAM issues. One theme running throughout the meeting was an acknowledgment that IFIs are going through a period of transition, as institutions such as the World Bank see their roles reduced in proportion to an increasing amount of investment lending being handled by private banks. An additional change is the nature of IFI lending itself, as an increasing amount is directed toward non-project lending. For example, it was noted that half of World Bank lending, and two thirds of IFC lending go toward non-project investments, to which safeguard policies do not apply.
The IAM meetings are especially important in light of the current update to the World Bank’s environmental and social safeguard policies. One of the Inspection Panel’s roles is to evaluate whether the World Bank is adhering to its policies, and although these policies may be applied in fewer instances due to increased non-project lending, they still set the standard for other IFIs worldwide. Natural Justice has submitted comments on these policies, and it is projected that the World Bank will release a draft for comment early in 2014.