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Humanity Absent from World’s most Acclaimed Development Report

By Tani Alex

The World Development Report (WDR) is the World Bank’s development research and policy review report published annually. Started by IBRD since 1978, this report is intended to provide deep and extensive analysis on one particular aspect of economic development, every year. The solutions and policy messages brought out in this report is widely scrutinised by researchers, policy makers, governments and civil society since this ‘flagship’ report is supposedly the Bank’s highly prized research contribution to the development world. Heavy research budgets, far-reaching dissemination and the legitimacy of ‘World Bank’ publication make this a cherished one for the Bank. Few of the previous years’ reports focused on education, health, environment, risk management, poverty, the role of the state, youth, agriculture, equity and public services delivery.

Quick Glimpse into the development of WDR 2019

The World Development Report 2019: Changing Nature of Work (WDR 2019) examines the changing nature of work and firms, laying emphasis on the impact of technology and digital innovation on the current global economy.

But what made this report a highly talked about one in the recent debates on development? The Bank’s previous president Jim Yong Kim writes in his foreword that this document shows the transparency of work since it was open to all for modification of drafts, almost every week online. And then, there were more than a million downloads even before halfway its publication which also made it the most downloaded report in 2018. Another occasion to note is that its preparatory phase was delayed by the Bank’s then chief economist Paul Romer’s resignation[he was the first director of WDR 2019], over his controversial remarks on the direct correlation between the political leanings of the staff and annual rankings of countries in Ease of Doing Business process of the Bank. Subsequently, the work was taken over by Simeon Djankov, who is the Founding Director of the much sought-after, yet much criticised, Doing Business Reports. Yet another highlight of this report was the introduction of Human Capital Index [The human capital project examined in WDR 2019 will be explained in another section of this article], again contested, where countries will be now ranked annually in terms of a child attaining optimum productivity after having attained education and full health from birth till 18 years of age.

Paradoxical Messages of WDR 2019

But above all, this report faces strong criticism for its two pertinent direct messages – deregulation of businesses and shifting obligations of firms/employers for social protection of workers/employees to the shoulders of the State. Few voices have come out globally carefully analysing the nuances of various explanations given by the Bank to establish the context for its suggestions for the future of work for the evolving economy.

It is true that the report has failed to give a rounded, well-thought critique on the actual challenges faced by workers in the accelerated transformation of the world of work.  To put it short, critically speaking, this report is inherently characterised on anti-worker perspective. The deregulatory solution brought out in this report parrots almost all the editions of Doing Business Reports since 2003 promoting private sector development and having influenced watering down of many regulatory policies across countries to facilitate rapid entry and development of the business.

This was eagerly executed by governments because labour regulations policies allegedly stifled exciting investments and swift economic growth. It is ironical that the same Bank, in its WDR 2013: Jobs, after extensive review on the link between labour regulation and employment [following a massive hue and cry from few governments, labour movements and ILO], had stated that this ‘link’ was non-existent. This obviously shows WDR 2019 disproves the exhaustive findings of WDR 2013!

Moreover, the Bank, during its previous Annual Meetings at Bali during October 2018 had introduced its new Environmental and Social Framework, where respect for workers’ rights in Bank’s projects was entered as Labour Safeguards [ESS2– Labour and Working Conditions]. Not less than two weeks later after the much appreciation for Bank’s new safeguard policy, came WDR 2019 in direct and stark contrasting opinions. This is highly contradictory and problematic from the Bank’s side sending two conflicting messages in two separate yet distinguished policy publications.

Story Line of WDR 2019The world of work is progressing rapidly with technological and digital innovations including robots and Artificial Intelligence. Stable jobs are giving way to Gig- jobs and digital market places paved the way for platform market places and superstar firms. “Innovation will continue to accelerate” and there are growing chances, as already seen in many countries, that automation would replace the low-skilled redundant labour. Hence the jobs remaining outside automation would require highly skilled work-force that would have exceptional cognitive skills [logic, reasoning, critical thinking], socio-behavioural skills [teamwork, resilience, confidence, leadership] and skills of predictive adaptability [‘an individual now can have not many jobs but different careers in one lifetime’].

In order to feed into this need for a productive workforce, education and health must be critical for every child [starting from birth, especially until 5 years of age] and adult [adult learning outside the school and tertiary education. Therefore, the bank’s new Human Capital Project and Human Capital Index examines closely at this aspect of development and will recommend policy actions through country strategies. And what about those who fail to fall in the ‘formal’ and productive workforce, namely the informal workers? Well, they will be given social assistance [various forms of UBI, negative tax], social insurance and State will protect them with basic minimum, and if possible reskilling and upskilling initiatives would be undertaken].

All said, the gap of finances which then the State is faced with can be covered by mobilizing tax revenue – by imposing VAT, excise tax on tobacco, alcohol, sugar, etc. and by expanding the tax coverage base, along with further strengthening of global efforts of OECD and G-20 to agree together on preventing tax erosion and profit-shifting through tax havens.

And thereafter, to accommodate all these policy changes, there should be political incentives for governments through new social contracts for the State to protect all, whether they are formal or informal workers, whether they are employed or unemployed and wherein the returns to work for the State is also guaranteed.

It finally follows that the goal of social inclusion is achieved thus. Well, aren’t we all made happy and all looks rosy!

A Few Disquieting Specifics from WDR 2019

Apart from the disguising semantics of WDR 2019’s storyline, here is a list of important suggested possibilities of what might not be well with a large number of us globally, if its recommended policy actions are adopted by governments:

  1. Minimum wages, which ensured fair returns to workers against exploitation of employers, shall be reduced – employers are free to reduce the wages to the bare minimum.
  2. You and I can be fired from work at will. Because we pose structural rigidity to firms.
  3. Employers will be made free from providing workers’ protection rights (imagine how this would read for those who work in occupationally hazardous environments especially and already for those working as independent contractors and gig-workers who juggle multiple careers who do not fall under the regular labour category)
  4. Already data is given in the report of advanced economies enjoying the productivity of robots, while the employment growth has been steady and has not been affected. But how can these be ideated with that of situations in poor and low-middle income countries?
  5. Workers are expensive if labour rights and protection are implemented in every firm, hence do away with labour regulations! [Shake hands with the similar recommendations of Doing Business Reports!]
  6. The present Bismarckian model of social security scheme based on workers’ and employers’ voluntary contribution will be changed since they do not include the informal workers who are 2/3rdof developing country population.
  7. The informality of works worldwide poses a huge problem of workers not being able to be adapted to the past faced requirements of the transforming economy. Majority of us will be jobless unless we keep on learning if we are adults. No mention of senior citizens in the report.
  8. Digital marketplaces, to read accurately, ‘intangible marketplaces’ get away with not having to pay taxes and profit-shifting. So, let the governments finance their basic social welfare schemes and assistance by expanding the tax base and increasing regressive VAT. Imagine how a poor or developing nation would suffer from the burden of it – the ordinary man’s wages go into his daily sustenance and will not have savings, and then he needs to pay VAT over what he consumes for his survival!
  9. Various forms of Universal Basic Income [UBI] are recommended.
  10. Rich will get richer, poor will be increasingly poorer (seems the Gini coefficient hasn’t moved altogether for some time)

Other General Global Concerns with WDR 2019

The following broad critique has been collated and arranged from all the sources given in this article, hyperlinked at various instances.

  1. Lack of significant research data
  2. Selective data and evidence presentation
  3. Casual handling of the subject with sweeping generalizations
  4. Central assertions of the document [except maybe a little in the Building Human Capital and Lifelong learning] are devoid of solid and reliable data and genuine analysis.
  5. The Bank has perhaps allowed right-wing ideologies to trickle down into their research reports.
  6. While stressing the need to acknowledge the rise of platform markets and independent contractors, legal protection and safeguards for the emerging distinct labour force [who have also met serious resistance while campaigning for their rights like Uber Drivers] have not been addressed.
  7. Pro-business and superstar firms agenda
  8. Growing inequality of economies inadequately discussed
  9. “Disregarding history, blinkered to indigenous protests, pretending there’s a peaceful pathway to all things good”

Longstanding observers of WDR over many years has recognised the emerging pattern of the Bank to move away from their adopting best practices to better learning by doing exercises. And that the Bank has been engaging in wider politics for better acceptance of their policy recommendations, including the “elite interests and ideologies; addressing collective action problems; building support for reform…legitimising a wider consensus”, for “pro-poor experimentation.”

The report has not just suggested eliminating the responsibility of social protection from the private sector and superstar firms, but altogether failed to address and recall the need of commitment from advanced nations to contribute in global development, by limiting the scope of the report to just low and middle-income economy experiments and discussions.

Much disappointing and worse is the fact that, here, human beings are pitted as human capital only, to be tailor-made for ‘productivity’. In the impatient race for economic growth and capital, the creativity of humanity, the plight of less privileged and marginalised, the ever-present resistances of people’s groups and movements, declining natural resources and accommodating other living beings, much less…the essence of life and living itself is non-existent in this ‘development’ report.

इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर निवेश: विकास या विनाश

एशियन इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर इन्वेस्टमेंट बैंक और भारत का नेशनल इन्वेस्टमेंट एंड इंफ़्रास्ट्रक्चर फ़ंड के निवेश संकट की और एक इशारा

भारत में जलविद्युत विकास को बड़े पैमाने पर बढ़ावा

इस सेक्टर में निजी क्षत्रे को आकर्षित करने के लिए सरकार ने 2016 में इस पर चर्चा शुरू की कि नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा के क्षत्रे को और विस्तृत किया जाए ताकि 25 मेगावाट क्षमता से अधिक के जलविद्युत स्टेशन भी उसमें शामिल किए जा सके। इससे सरकार को 2022 तक 175 मेगावाट नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा उत्पादित करने के लक्ष्य को हासिल करने में मदद मिलेगी।

Big Push for the Development of Hydropower in India

It is noteworthy that currently, coal-based power projects are under threat due to lack of coal linkages and power purchase agreements, thus stalling many existing power projects and discouraging many companies from expanding to new coal power projects. This would give a boost to hydropower projects in many regions, especially in the Himalayan regions.

India paid over 600 crores between 2009-2015 to the IFIs for not using their loans

~ Maju Varghese

Every year, India pays an enormous amount of money as commitment charges to the multilateral institutions for not utilising the loans sanctioned by them. Investopedia defines commitment charges as the fee charged by the lender to a borrower for an unused or un-disbursed loan since it has set aside the funds for the borrower and cannot yet charge interest.

According to the CAG,  between 2009-2015 India paid commitment charges up to 602 crores to the external lenders. In 2014-15 itself, India was holding Rs. 2,10,099 crores of unutilised funds thus inviting a commitment charge of Rs. 110 crores. Finance Ministry had found that between 1991 and 2009, the government had paid approximately Rs 1,400 crores as the commitment charges for loans not utilised.

The commitment charges are coupled with interest while reporting by the ministry of finance which makes it difficult to understand the charges paid to different agencies in a fiscal year. The CAG observed that putting commitment charges under the head “interest obligation” is misleading as it does not reflect the nature of expenses.

Arun Jaitley, the Indian Finance Minister minister of India, has been raising the issue of commitment charges. In the 94th development committee of the World Bank, he raised the issue of commitment charges which is highest among multilateral development Banks and demanded its withdrawal. This was again repeated when the demand when the CEO of World Bank visited the country and met the Finance Minister. India is among the countries which are graduating from a low-income country to lower middle-income country resulting in loss of concessional finance from IDA loans.

World Bank charges a commitment charge of 0.25 per cent per annum on un-disbursed loans even if they are committed to be drawn in subsequent years. This is in addition to a front-end fee, a fee paid by the borrower to the lender before the loan offtakes, of 0.25 per cent on loan agreement amount (applicable on current loans). These commitment charges begin accruing 60 days after the loan agreement is signed. Despite resistance from the countries, the World Bank has stated that it will not be able to remove commitment charges due to its cost recovery guidelines.

According to the CAG, India had a total outstanding debt of 51,04,675 crores as on March 31, 2015. This increased to around 57,021,582 crores on August 15, 2016, which means a per capita debt of Rs 44,032. This comes to around 41 per cent of the GDP. To service this massive debt, India pays about 36,318 crores as interest payment every year. CAG further reports that in 2014-15, 77 per cent of the long-term internal borrowings and 73 per cent of the external borrowings were utilised for debt servicing, implying that a larger percentage of debt was being used for paying the existing debts. This, in turn, meant the lower percentage of debt was available for meeting developmental expenditure to promote growth.

Swatch Bharat and commitment charges

The World Bank had approved a US$1.5 billion loan for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), Modi government’s much-hyped flag-ship campaign on Sanitation to support the government’s efforts to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation. The loan sanctioned in 2015 is the Bank’s biggest lending in the social sector.

The mission has provision for incentivizing states on their performance in the Swachh Bharat Mission. The performance of the States will be gauged through an independent survey based measurement of certain performance indicators, called the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). However, due to lack of independent verification of results, India missed the first disbursement of the loan. According to the media reports, India is likely to miss the second tranche too. Despite not receiving a single paisa, India has paid the commitment charge, interest, and front-end fees of USD 15.40 million so far.

The payment of commitment charges to the multilateral agencies because of governmental inability to plan and implement shows a lack of seriousness in using public money. CAG has mapped and pointed out the inefficiency of governments in utilising funds. The money that we pay as fine and commitment charges are a waste of public resources as pointed out by CAG in the reports from time to time. The proposal to set up a public debt and management agency for proper planning of external debt is still pending in spite of various statements by the finance minister.

Multiple CAG reports on debt need to be taken on a priority basis, and an oversight mechanism should be created within the parliament of India through a standing committee to look into external debt and also its investments abroad and making it transparent and accountable to the citizens of the country.

50 years of ADB – The Indian story of resistance

The Asian Development Bank was conceived in the early 1960s as a financial institution that would foster economic growth and cooperation in Asia. India was a founding member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is now the fourth-largest shareholder. ADB commenced operations in India in 1986 and has approved 240 loans totalling $36.8 billion.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has grown to be the third largest source of development finance in the Asia-Pacific region, next to the World Bank Group and the Japanese Government. Documents published in 2017 reveals that from a lending portfolio of just over $3 billion during the first decade, ADB has expanded its lending to $123 billion during the last 10 years.

However, the Mid-term Review (MTR) of ADB’s strategy for 2015 and 2020 have acknowledged that the Asia-Pacific region faces widening inequalities in income and access to economic and social opportunities. Increased investment in infrastructure has failed to provide inclusive growth and social protection to the vulnerable sections of the populations including the workers and women.

India had about 84 ongoing sovereign loans from ADB amounting to $11.9 billion at the end of 2015. Currently, we have about 170 active projects in the country of ADB alone. The massive Vizag-Chennai corridor, the numerous urban development projects across the country, the ReNew clean energy projects in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, are only a few of the 50 odd active and approved projects. Further 23 projects have been proposed to the ADB waiting for approval. These are just projects covered by ADB, adding them to the projects funded by all IFIs shows the extent of their influence in almost every sector – energy, infrastructure, health, etc. The scale of land grab, loss of livelihood, environmental destruction has been completely overlooked by both the IFIs and the government. The rampant privatisation of all the sectors, including health care, is going to affect all those who would not be able to afford health care. In such a time, holding the development banks accountable has become imperative for one’s survival with some modicum of dignity.

 

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ADB Investments in India. Source: Answer by the government to the parliament of India

 

ADB 50 campaign in India

The first week of May 2017 was marked by actions across the country against ADB and other IFIs. It coincided with ADB’s 50 years celebrations in Manila. The massive protest actions were intended to send a strong message to the ADB and other IFIs of the havoc their investments have caused. Thousands of people, in over 140 locations spread in over 21 states in India and over 80 organisations, came together to make this campaign a massive success. These protest actions are both a reminder of the reckless lending of ADB and hope to continue the struggle against the IFIs and their inequitable development model.

The coming together of so many organisations resulted in a wide range of programmes, including the public meeting, lectures, demonstrations, and human chains. Activists also made short video clips highlighting the impacts of the investments by IFIs. The protests actions raised concerns about investments of IFIs like World Bank; International Finance Corporation; Japan Bank of International Corporation (JBIC); Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank; New Development Bank; Exim Banks of Korea, United States, China among others. Many of these agencies are co-financiers, with increasing investments in the infrastructure and cross border projects, thus causing irreversible damage to the people and environment, while their policies to safeguard the harm caused by their investments are made opaque and watered down.

The actions mentioned above on the occasion of 50 years of ADB are a part of the continuous struggle of the people from all the regions that have been affected by the projects.

Communities affected by Tata Mundra approach US court to review “absolute immunity” doctrine

After a Judge declared World Bank immunity cases “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by the Tata Mundra project approach US court to review “absolute immunity” doctrine

Communities harmed by Tata Mundra coal power plant in India continue to seek justice from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation

July 26, 2017, Washington, D.C., and Mundra: After a federal judge in US declared that the cases giving the World Bank Group an “absolute immunity” from lawsuits were “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by private-lending arm of the World Bank Group have filed a petition asking the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit its immunity doctrine.

In June, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, in the case Budha Ismail Jam v. IFC, had ruled that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-lending arm of the World Bank Group, could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant, which has devastated fishing and farming communities in Gujarat.

In its June ruling, the panel, citing the legal precedents, concluded that the IFC is immune from suit in this case. Justice Nina Pillard, however, wrote a dissenting opinion criticising those decisions as “wrongly decided” and suggested that the full D.C. Circuit, which has the authority to change the law of the Circuit, should revisit those cases.

“The panel’s ruling gives international organisations like the IFC an unparalleled immunity, insulating them from legal accountability regardless of how much harm they cause,” said Richard Herz, senior litigation attorney at ERI, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “Such sweeping immunity, which is far greater than the privileges enjoyed by sovereign foreign governments, is inconsistent with multiple Supreme Court precedents, and is contrary to the IFC’s development mission,” added Herz.

“We will not give up our struggle for justice,” said Budha Jam, a plaintiff in the case, after the verdict.

“This decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalised when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” added Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case. “But no one should be above the law.”

It is noteworthy that the plaintiffs filed suit against the IFC in April 2015 over the destruction of their livelihoods and property and threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded plant. The IFC recognised from the start that the Tata Mundra plant was a high-risk project that could have “significant” and “irreversible” adverse impacts on local communities and their environment. Despite knowing the risks, the IFC provided a critical $450 million (Rs 1800 crore) loan in 2008, enabling the project’s construction and giving the IFC immense influence over project design and operation. It failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to the local communities and to ensure that the project abides by the required environmental and social conditions for IFC involvement.

The plant has destroyed the local marine environment and the fish populations that fishermen like Jam rely on to support their families, and vital sources of water used for drinking and irrigation. Coal ash contaminates crops and fish laid out to dry and has led to an increase in respiratory problems.

The IFC’s compliance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, issued a scathing report in 2013 confirming that the IFC had failed to ensure the Tata Mundra project complied with the conditions of the IFC’s loan. Rather than follow CAO’s recommendation for remedial action, rejected most of its findings, and ignored others. Plaintiffs had no other recourse but to sue IFC. In its ruling last month, the panel recognised the “dismal” situation of the affected communities, noting IFC did not deny that the plant had caused substantial damage and yet found IFC could not be sued.

The harms suffered by the communities are all the more regrettable because the project made no economic sense from the beginning. In fact, in the past month, Tata Power, which owns the plant, has begun trying to unload a majority of its shares in the project for 1 Rupee because of the losses it has suffered and will suffer going forward.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that IFC has waived immunity because this suit promoted the IFC’s mission, which includes the goals of reducing poverty without harming its projects’ neighbours. The IFC interestingly argued that it is not bound by its own mission.

“The court’s judgment supports the arrogance of lenders like IFC, who disregard the law, their own safeguard policies, and even the findings of their accountability mechanisms,” said Dr. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (Association for the Struggle for Fisherworkers’ Rights), which is a plaintiff in the case. “This sends the wrong message to institutions like IFC – that you can continue to lend money to bad projects, causing irreversible damage to people and environment and no law will hold you accountable.”

The plaintiffs are optimistic that the full D.C. Circuit will reconsider the case.