Will justice be done in a final 'policy review'?
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
September 21, 2003

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NOT for the first time, and I guess not the last either, a team of staffers and consultants recruited by the World Bank (WB) for an assignment in a Caribbean state, has provoked the anger of a government that forced the international financial institution to "clarify" its position ahead of a promised final "policy review".

This time, the controversy involves the Bharrat Jagdeo Guyana Government and the World Bank over a draft 'Development and Policy Review' on Guyana by a very sizable team comprising Bank staff, consultants, "peer reviewers" and others.

The row revolves around publication of a leaked 74-page draft report of the team's 'Guyana Development Policy Review'. The review was done in March this year - at the height of a criminal rampage with its mix of sheer banditry and political dimension.

Key government personnel, as well as the political opposition and business sectors, in addition to select others were interviewed for the preparation of the team's June 23 draft report. The final and, presumably more carefully prepared "final review" for the guidance of the World Bank's decision makers is yet to come.

Incidentally, the draft report was submitted some six weeks after a significant joint communiqué on the ongoing high-level dialogue process headed by President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Robert Corbin on efforts to resolve national problems and improve governance.

By then, there were also indicators that the security forces were, finally, gaining the upper hand in a year-long war against the mind-boggling spate of murders, including killing of law enforcing officers, kidnappings for ransom, armed robberies and other serious crimes.

Whatever the criteria employed in selecting the team of "consultants", "peer reviewers" and others, the Guyana Government was to be jolted by what the draft report had to say on sensitive issues of "governance", crime and corruption.

According to the 'preface' of the draft report, the intention was for the team to "provide an up-to-date, integrated assessment of Guyana's development policy agenda, with the main focus on government, growth and poverty alleviation".

The Surprise
Imagine the surprise and hurt, therefore, of the government when, according to a subsequent reasoning by Finance Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar, the report reflected more of a political hatchet job than an objective, professional assessment.

Further, controversial claims in the draft report - some of which converged with earlier published positions of the main opposition PNC/R, and also that of at least one consultant on the World Bank's team.

The draft report of the team strikingly contrasted with an endorsement just a week earlier by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Fund had more than just words of encouragement for the government's handling of the economy under what it viewed as a "more difficult political and security situation" since the launch of its 'Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Programme'.

The language in sections of the World Bank team's draft report smacks of partisan politicking in relation to a perceived "crisis in governance", and with the government being dismissed as "weak" in responding to crime and claimed chronic public corruption. Was this the result of "consultations" with known political opponents of the government?

On the assumption that the team of "experts" set out to be objective in presenting their findings - conscious of the serious social, economic and political problems and challenges Guyana has had to face for many years - and not unrelated to the long dispensation of PNC's effective one-party rule, it exposed a serious failure.

It failed to reflect the promise of an "up-to-date integrated assessment" of the country's development policy agenda, as stated in the 'preface' of the report. Had this been done, there may not have been the controversy sparked by the "draft" and the subsequent assurance of such "integration" in the final "Policy Review Report".

In the circumstances, the government, speaking through its Finance Minister, felt constrained to passionately challenge assumptions and conclusions in the draft report with its own claims of it being flawed, politically biased, unprofessional and out of date.

Interview Process
Having, apparently, omitted significant positions outlined by key government representatives, and being rather selective in their choice of interviews with representatives of political parties and others, the team may have set itself up in its own interview process and methodologies that resulted in the highly contentious claims about a "crisis in governance".

Fortunately, the members of the team have the opportunity to correct omissions and other deficiencies in striving to present a more balanced and accurate final report on Guyana's Development 'Policy Review'.

As the Minister of Finance made public last week in his summary of a submission made on September 8 for the final Policy Review, the government has no intention to be associated with the report as it currently exists in its draft form.

The day after that position was articulated publicly by the Finance Minister, the Guyana-based Country Representative of the World Bank Group issued a brief press statement:

"We wish to make it clear", said Luci Hanmer, on behalf of the Bank, that this (what was published in the local media) is a draft report.

"We have received comments from government and others on the report and, as is the normal practice, we are currently in the process of integrating these comments into the report. When the report is finalised we will make it public".

The response is understandably low-keyed and careful. The draft had provoked sufficient trouble. Now, it seems, is the time for damage control and, presumably, to get back to basic professional integrity and competence in the preparation of the final Development Policy Review.

Assuming the accuracy of the position so firmly outlined by the Finance Minister in his comments for the final Policy Review, the decision-makers of the World Bank may wish to also address the "general" and "specific" concerns identified in the government's reaction to the draft report.

While anxiously awaiting the final report, critical questions need to be asked at the level in the World Bank where it really matters, on omissions, the interview-process pursued and methodologies in gathering and assessing information and comments

And, of course, why the events and developments of significance since March to the present, may be of significance in the team's reshaping of the final 'Development Policy Review'.

After all, it is a people's future at stake, not just the reputation of a government in an open, democratic state. The team members have the responsibility to come good - in the Bank's and their own reputation as well - in the "integrated", and "up-to-date" final report.

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