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Center for Global Development Hosts Event on Thirty Years of the Inspection Panel; Discusses Impact of the First MDB Accountability Mechanism


On October 31st, the Center for Global Development (CGD) hosted a Panel discussion to Thirty Years of the Inspection Panel and its impact over the last three decades, drawing upon the experience and learnings of inspection cases. Interest in the topic was high - more than 130 persons attended the event in person or via livestreaming (and more than three hundred viewings of the online recording in the subsequent days).

Speakers at the event included Panel Chair Ramanie Kunanayagam; Gina Barbieri, an expert on accountability systems and practice; Zarau Kibwe, World Bank Alternate Executive Director representing 22 African in its constituency; and Dyhia Belhabib, Executive Director, Nautical Crime Investigation Services. Karen Mathiesen, a CGD project director, and formers senior civil servant in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of International Affairs, moderated the discussion. 

In introducing the program, Mathiesen observed that the Panel “was the first of its kind…a very big deal,” inspiring the creation of independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) at other multilateral development banks. She kick started the discussion by inviting Kunanayagam to describe the Panel and how it operates, including the way in which it treats inspection Requests. Barbieri then described four key building blocks and principles of the Panel that continue to be adopted by new and evolving IAMs elsewhere. 

The first building block she cited is being community and citizen driven. That is, those who believe that they have been (or could be) harmed by a project can raise their concerns to an independent entity. The second is creating the opportunity for the community’s voice to reach the highest levels of the organization (e.g., the World Bank Board of Directors). The third building block, explained Barbieri, is a clear, predictable, and consistent process to respond to concerns. The final building block is having a constant feedback loop that ensures that lessons learned by an IAM flow into the institution. 

zarau kibwey, alternate executive director, the world bank

In his initial remarks, Kibwe emphasized the importance of giving communities a voice before the Board of Directors. “It’s really important for us to listen to them.” He hailed the Panel for helping to ensure compliance with Bank policies, contributing to the “transparency and credibility” of the institution, and generating “continuous learning and improvement.” Kibwe also highlighted the importance of the Panel’s independence which, in his view, is reinforced by budgetary autonomy, procedural safeguards that provide for confidentiality, a Board-managed nomination process, periodic Board reviews of the Panel’s operations, and the diversity of Panel members, as well as their fixed-tenure appointments.

Mathiesen then turned to Belhabib for insights into the livelihood issues involved in the West Africa Coastal Areas Resilience Investment Project, which was a Panel case in Togo. Belhabib explained that the project was aimed at addressing the serious problem of coastal erosion, which was causing damage to homes and livelihoods. Belhabib singled out a particularly important lesson from the Panel’s investigation: “we cannot discount the role of knowledge gathering, including the inclusion of the voiceless people.” This implies, she said, that we must actively seek out the views of these marginalized people regarding well-intended efforts to address threats to their community. 

Discussion then turned to the impact of the World Bank’s Evolution Roadmap on the Panel’s future work. On this point, Kunanayagam stated that


that the Panel will have to become accustomed to dealing with different types of cases. She said many of the Panel’s cases and requests for inspection to the Panel relate to heavy infrastructure projects. She said as the World Bank turns to financing more climate-friendly projects then the type of Requests to the Panel could also evolve.  She noted that climate-friendly projects, like large solar, can generate social impacts. In such cases she said both climate and poverty issues would have be considered as equal priorities and not a trade off. 

gina barbieri

Shifting to different roles of IAMs, Barbieri argued for a move away from the binary conversation of “accountability does A and dispute resolution does B” and instead recognize that “dispute resolution has a role to play in the accountability ecosystem,” and focus greater attention on how to become more effective in responding to harms and how to support institutions in their responsiveness.

Responding to the question of how borrowing countries view the Panel, Kibwe highlighted its role in improving development impacts, strengthening capacity of project implementation units, informing local procedures, such as those for resettlement, and nudging the World Bank to design projects that align with local context.

dyhia belhabib

Building on her earlier remarks, Belhabib noted that the “Inspection Panel’s work in terms of gathering knowledge is very comprehensive.” She stressed the need to address the knowledge gap as project are being developed to avoid negative impacts. Belhabib also advocated a more proactive effort to raise awareness of the Panel in developing countries to provide communities with critical information needed to raise project-related concerns.

cover-image-livelihood-advisoryThe panelists then fielded several questions from the engaged audience. During this part of the program, Kunanayagam announced a “soft launch” of the forthcoming Panel report on Ensuring Development While Securing Livelihoods, the latest publication in its Emerging Lessons Series. Kunanaygam said this latest advisory examines the challenges the Panel has observed with regards to identifying impact on livelihoods (scale, severity and duration); what is entailed with regards to preparing livelihoods restoration plans; importance of measuring the effectiveness of livelihood restoration and the Panel’s insights from recent cases on the impacts on livelihoods. 

As the program edged toward conclusion, the panelists and the moderator offered their thoughts on what they would most like the audience to take away from the program. 

Kunanayagam remarked on the “importance of accountability in development”, especially in the context of very large institutions that utilize large amounts of public money to address challenges like climate change and poverty. Accountability can only work, she added, “if its independence is safeguarded.” Barbieri endorsed this as “the most fundamental point to take away,” stressing the importance of building the community voice into development processes. Barbieri also pointed to the need to strengthen the ability of development institutions to provide remedy to affected persons.

Kibwe offered three parting messages: 1) the Panel reinforces the Bank’s value proposition, 2) the Accountability Mechanism is part of Bank’s Board governance, and 3) the Panel is a learning tool for the Bank. Belhabib pointed out a need to internalize the processes of accountability at the individual level as well as the institutional level. 

Mathiesen wrapped up the discussion by noting her greatest takeaway: “the number of stakeholders,” which she referred to as “extraordinary.” The panel had brought to light that many of these stakeholders are “invisible,” and many of them don’t even realize that they are stakeholders. The moderator elaborated that this situation raises questions about how to identify such stakeholders, reach them, and then engage with them. These are, she concluded, “hard questions” for development institutions.   

Photo Courtesy: Kaveh Sardari, LinkedIn: