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A REPORT THAT’S GETTING CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 27 June 2000 -- The controversies over the Better World for All (BWA) ‘Report, launched Monday by the United Nations, the IMF, World Bank and the OECD was overshadowing the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Social Summit plus 5.

The explanations and clarifications offered Monday evening at a panel discussion by representatives from the IMF, the OECD, the UNDP and the UN Development Group - on the origins and processes of the preparation of the report, its target audience and purposes - only added to the confusion and controversies.

And perhaps most intriguing of all was the view at the panel from the IMF representative that the 25-page publication was the ‘institutional view’ of the four institutions, whose heads have signed the foreword, and that there would be future annual reports.

The report was officially launched Monday evening by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a press conference (where several other UN agency heads and the IMF, World Bank and OECD representatives also spoke).

But the report had also been previewed and commended in advance by Kofi Annan on Sunday at the opening of the Global Forum 2000, an official NGO event, and in his opening speech to the UN General Assembly.

The public interest development groups and non-governmental organizations and coalitions at the Special Session, have become quite concerned over the report and the ‘high level marketing effort’ behind it, and the confusing message about the UN that this would arouse, and have voiced these concerns Monday at the meeting of the Committee of the Whole (COW) of the UN General Assembly.

After the official launch and the press conference on Monday, representatives among others of the OECD, IMF, UNDP and the UN Development Group shared a podium with the coordinator of the international NGO coalition Social Watch where their answers and explanations left the audience pretty confused.

At the COW, Meena Raman for the Development Caucus agreed with the opening remarks at the COW of its chairman, Amb. Cristian Macquiera that the UN was at the cross-roads and the outcome of UNGASS would mark the direction for social development, and said it was precisely because of this that “we have very serious and grave concerns” about the “colourful pamphlet” co-authored by the UN Secretary-General and heads of the IMF, World Bank and the OECD.

Just when the UNGASS was addressing very difficult issues as the enabling environment for social development, the pamphlet was presenting a series of recommendations to developing countries as being the result of international agreements. Among these were recommendations to open up their markets for flow of imports, exports and finance.

“The high-level marketing effort to promote this ‘BW for all’ as a new manifesto at the beginning of this Special Session confuses the public with a message that can be easily understood as emanating from the UN General Assembly itself. We are extremely concerned with the co-authorship of this document between the UN S-G and the OECD, World Bank and the IMF. The OECD, World Bank and the IMF and their policies have come under heavy criticism and are recognised as being responsible for the deepening of poverty and inequalities and social disintegration in the developing world.

“It is with deep regret we note that the UN Secretary-General, who should speak for all, is speaking in one voice with a minority of rich nations and two international organizations, which the same minority control. Hence we are worried about the perceptions of bias within the offices of the Secretary-General of the UN.”

The views and comments of various UN system officials, and of the IMF and OECD, at the panel discussion over the BW for All report, left an even more confusing picture of the origins, targets and aims of the pamphlet.

At the panel, Roberto Bissio of Social Watch gave an account of the civil society concerns over the pamphlet. The Social Watch had been invited by the OECD, before the pamphlet was finalised, to give their views and comments on initial drafts, to which (according to Bissio) various UN agencies and the UN itself had provided technical inputs.

“The report,” Bissio told the panel meeting, “is not about monitoring progress (on Copenhagen). It is a highly political document. Look at the goals on open markets for trade, technology and ideas. It refers to globalization offering opportunities to the developing countries through better technology for delivering products and service."

“There has been no agreement on these issues,” Bissio pointed out.  “Just take the example of the Uruguay Round WTO TRIPs Agreement. It is an obstacle to technology transfer. There is also no international agreement on developing countries opening up their markets to imports, exports and finance. Even the WTO has no agreement that developing countries open up their financial markets. This is highly controversial. There is no international agreement. But there is no hint of this debate in the report.”

The report is also ill-timed, said the Social Watch coordinator.

“Governments are here in Geneva now to negotiate and to take decisions.  This report pre-empts the discussion. The UN Secretary-General, and the heads of the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF appear to have already decided the issue.”

Noting that at the press conference for the launch of the report, the media had been told that the G-7 had asked for the report, Bissio added: “This is a scandal! This report represents the views of the OECD, the 28 richest countries of the world."

“It is fine if the OECD attends to the needs of the G-7. But why should the UN be involved?” he asked.

The OECD representative said that the request for a report on progress towards poverty reduction and how well aid was doing had come from the G-7. But the goals set in the report, he claimed, were goals derived from the UN conferences. But the OECD was challenged on this, and it was pointed out that the target for reducing poverty by year 2015 was one found in the OECD document about the 21st century, and not the Copenhagen documents. And the $1 a day as defining extreme poverty was a level set by the World Bank, and not as set by Copenhagen by national governments. Europeans for example had set the poverty level as below the half of the median income of a family. But the Report says nothing about what the developed countries had done to meet the social targets.

Some participants in the panel discussion questioned the mandate of the UN Secretary-General in signing on to the report. In representing the views of the G-7, the report was deviating from the mandate of the UN to represent all member countries.

Others raised questions about the involvement of UN agencies in the preparation of the report, and about the UN’s agreement with the recommendations of the report which seemed to be contrary to the conclusions of the United Nations reports.

Responding to some of the questions, a representative from the UNDP said that the preparation of the report had involved many parties. It was not possible to say, he stressed, that all the recommendations contained in the report were agreed to by all the parties. He added:

“Do not equate this report with the definitive policy statement. You could say it is a ‘partnership compromise’.”

The representative of the UN Development Group said that the process of the report did not engage member states, and “it was not the Secretary-General’s report.” The UN agencies, he said, had been consulted and many had contributed data and information. The objective was to put the issues on the agenda. “It is difficult to get developed country politicians to focus on their obligations. So if this report manages to do that, it would have met the objective.”

However, noted Bissio later, the report slurs over the obligations and commitments of the developed countries. Even the ODA target, mentioned in a footnote to a graph on page 23 of the pamphlet, mentions about a few that had met the 0.7% target, and the fall in the OECD average. But it was all en passant, a curious way to focus attention of developed country politicians.

Responding to some of the criticisms, Brian Hammond from the OECD said there was agreement on the goals. The report was intended to make OECD Trade Ministers look at the issues and it was designed to be accessible. He added: “It is intended for both the G-7 and 15-year old school children!”

The UNICEF representative said it was a “light report” and an attempt to deal with complex issues in an accessible manner. He emphasized the report was not a final statement, but meant to generate interest in people who did not have much knowledge on the issues. He however admitted that in writing the report it appeared that there had been the “adding of inconsistency upon imprecision, creating a mountain of imperceptions... “If you want to get a message across, you have to simplify and that’s when you run into compromises.”

For the IMF, Sanjeev Gupta said the IMF was prepared to listen to concerns of civil society, and stressed the report was not a final one, but intended to start the discussion and debate on the issue. There was a proposal to make it a yearly report, and next year’s report would take note of these concerns. But the IMF intended the Better World for All report to complement another report to the G-7 prepared by the multilateral financial institutions on ‘public goods’ in which the policies were elaborated in detail.

Responding to the comments from the other panel members, Bissio said that the major problem for civil society groups was that the report had simply ignored the on-going political debate on the issues.-SUNS4696

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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