Should You Trust the World Bank? Its 2017 Annual Report Will Surprise You
The World Bank Group has just released its 2017 Annual Report, which covers the period from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017. It was prepared by the Executive Directors of both the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA)—collectively known as the World Bank—in accordance with the respective bylaws of the two institutions.
Unlike previous annual reports, the 2017 edition makes quite a number of bold claims and provides the usual “statistics” and glossy tables, graphs to boot. For example, the report claims that the World Bank “helped quickly mobilize more than $170 million for the country after Hurricane Matthew” (See page 50.). It followed up with the trite point that “Providing financial resources in the immediate aftermath of a crisis can help restore infrastructure and services for people most in need.”
Next, the Bank claims that it “unlocked $1 billion in concessional financing” for Jordan and Lebanon for their support to Syrian refugees (See page 54.) Using innovative funding to support vital public health services and critical infrastructure can help meet the needs of both refugees and host countries’ citizens, the report says.
In Madagascar, the report claims that “more than 350,000 people are receiving cash transfers and nutrition services in the face of severe drought” (See page 38). The rationale? Supporting access to quality basic services, and to social protection when needed, can help individuals fulfill their potential and help countries achieve economic success.
Another highlight of the report is the claim that the Bank “gave a second chance at education” to nearly 690,000 children in remote, rural areas of Bangladesh (See page 58). The rationale was that “education is a powerful driver of development [and] it has large, consistent returns in terms of income and counters widening inequality.”
In Belarus, the Bank claims to have provided “state-of-the-art technology [that] is helping to better manage highways and improve commercial traffic through an important regional corridor” (See page 46). Quality roads, it argues, are not just infrastructure, they’re connections between people, markets, jobs, and opportunities.
Finally, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bank claims that it funded improvements to border facilities with DRC’s eastern and southern neighbors that are now reportedly helping to facilitate cross-border trade (See page 20). The contention was that reducing costs and wasted time at border crossings can help integrate markets, boost trade—including for small-scale and women traders—and grow economies.
Like all World Bank reports, there are no independent confirmations of these claims–at least, none so far. Whereas the Bank receives kudos in bringing its gravitas to bear on norm development and mobilization of resources and focusing attention to serious development challenges, there have been disappointments in the past regarding some of its projects, especially in Africa. The skepticism is often not only in terms of transparency but also sustainability of projects and investments that made it into these glossy annual reports.
So, do you or should you trust the World Bank? A perusal of the 2017 report (see link below) might surprise you.