This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Bank Inspection Panel. In 1993, the Bank’s Board of Directors established the independent body with the aim of creating a mechanism through which people affected by World Bank operations could voice their concerns and have them addressed with seriousness. Since September 2020, following the establishment of the World Bank Accountability Mechanism, the Inspection Panel is housed within the World Bank Accountability Mechanism. The Inspection Panel was established as a vehicle to give people— especially the most vulnerable — direct access to the Bank’s governing body when they believe that a Bank-financed project or a program has caused them harm.
The Panel has a dual objective (a) functioning as an accessible redress mechanism to those affected by World Bank financed operations, who can raise complaints to the Panel when World Bank projects cause or can cause harm to them or their environment (b) promoting accountability and transparency by holding the World Bank accountable to its own policies through its independent, fact-finding compliance investigations.
Since its inception, the Panel has played an important role in promoting accountability, transparency, and good governance in World Bank operations. Its investigations have contributed to improvements in the design and implementation of Bank-funded activities, as well as redress for local communities resulting in benefits for local communities and the environment.
Panel investigations and, in certain cases, Panel eligibility reports — have highlighted important issues that might otherwise have been overlooked. Such insights have at times led to improvements in project-affected areas and contributed to positive, systemic change in both the World Bank and the countries where its projects have been implemented.
The World Bank, of course, is a vast organization which benefit from many sources of knowledge, judgment, and influence, of which the Panel is one, to shape changes and improvements both at institutional and project levels. Some of the improvements specifically arising from Panel cases include the systemic inclusion in Bank operations of the elements to identify serious allegations of harm such as child labor, gender-based violence, or intimidation and reprisals. Accountability and transparency is integral to good governance and one of the pillars of development effectiveness.
In its three decades of existence the Panel has carried out scores of investigations, generating a rich collection of learnings. Investigation findings have helped ensure that actual or potential harm to communities from Bank-financed projects on which the Panel has received complaints, is adequately mitigated or compensated, and that the rights, livelihoods, and environments of communities are protected.
Examples of how the Panel’s work has either contributed to or catalysed positive change include a global review and staff guidance on labor influx issues, the creation of a Global Gender-Based taskforce within the World Bank Group, guidelines for addressing legacy issues in Bank-funded projects, and clarification of the Bank’s resettlement policy regarding application for land-use planning projects.
Panel Investigations have also helped to strengthen Bank operations, on which the Panel has received requests on issues such as promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups in the context of the projects concerned. In some instances, investigations have encouraged better Bank approaches to environmental and social performance, as well as improved protection of biodiversity and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which have benefitted affected communities and other stakeholders.
A pioneer among the international financial institutions, the Panel has inspired and informed the creation of independent accountability mechanisms at other multilateral development banks so that they, too, may assess people’s complaints and respond to the issues they raise.
Inspired by this year’s milestone anniversary, my fellow Panel members Mark Goldsmith, Ibrahim Pam, and I will be reflecting on the impact the Panel has made over the years as well as how it we can respond better to the intended beneficiaries of development cooperation and grow more relevant to a rapidly changing world.
Issues that we intend to discuss with stakeholders and accountability experts over the coming months include how the Panel should reflect changing priorities and financing patterns at the World Bank, the adequacy of redress provided to project-affected persons, and ways in which the Panel can contribute to greater development effectiveness.
Our 30th anniversary will be celebrated with a variety of events and actions, including at the World Bank’s Spring and Annual Meetings. We would love to hear your thoughts on the Panel through any of our social media accounts, or in person or virtually at our forthcoming public programs, which we will announce on our website. We welcome all perspectives on our work, so please reach out to us at email: email@example.com
Chairperson, The Inspection Panel
March 21, 2023.