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International Financial Institutions’ Poverty Reduction Strategy Research Paper



In the late 1990s, international financial institutions encountered a financial crisis and anti-globalization resistant movements. The period corresponded to a period of doubt, of challenge, and of civil agitation in the international financial institutions. There were increased problems of aid fed by continual reduction of the resource over the decade (Woods 133). Several poor countries during this period also registered prolonged economic failure.

These poor countries, especially in Africa, raised questions for the efficacy of development policies. As a result, International Financial Institutions, faced with new problems, sought a renewal of their analyses and practices. This forced International Financial Institutions in 1990 to constitute comprehensive development programs and extensive poverty reduction strategies as the alternate models of financial reforms (World Bank 1991: 2).

Throughout the 1990s decade, there was sustained criticism of the efficiency of development aid. This constituted one of the factors that contributed to the weakening of financial contributions by donors during the period. The World Bank published a report in 1997 that fully assessed development Aid. The Report titled: Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why (World Bank 1997: 63). It synthesized the World Bank’s reflections and thinking on the theme of aid.

The focus was on four principle theses illustrated by research investigations: first, the impact of growth on aid is favorable only in the context of good policies; second, classic conditionality based on the promises of future reforms is inefficient. It preferred a post conditionality system that linked the release of aid resources to results obtained and the quality of policies pursued; third, aid was far more fungible than was generally presumed and the resource allocation.

Notably, project aid was either illusory, that is, by the liberation of resources destined for other uses, or an attempt more or less was bound to flop, that is, if the foreseen allocation was not among government’s priorities; and fourth, the differences between developing countries was very important, notably with regard to the quality of institutions and policies in place. Therefore the countries were to receive different treatments. (International Institute for Environmental Development 114)

From the four illustrated factors, the report concluded that the conditions for success in poor nations were above all tied to the nature of policies pursued and to the quality of public institutions. Consequently, the nature of aid destination was to depend on institutional conditions and policies of the host countries.

Precisely, it distinguished three types of countries: those countries where the quality of policies and institutions were satisfactory, where sizeable and efficient aid was to serve to finance an overall public expenditure program, formed in partnership; those countries where quality policies were satisfactory, but institutions were weak, where continuation of aid associated with projects may be justified to ensure an efficient environment for some priority preoccupations; and lastly, those countries where there were nonexistent policies and institutions, where neither conditional aid nor project aid is efficient, and where it would be more appropriate to encourage improvements to the context and to institutions circulation of knowledge, promotion of dialogue and reflection, and others.

This doctrine consists of reserving the scarce resources transferred by International Financial Institutions in priority to areas where the conditions for its efficient utilization were the best (World Bank 1997:112).

What were the Poverty Reduction Strategies and its Effects?

In 1996, the IMF and the World Bank jointly launched the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) which had a reform focus on poverty reduction. Besides, the program targeted poor countries with low income and ascertained the extent of debt relief (Schweickert 3). HIPC also included multilateral debts, that is, debts owed by poor countries to multilateral financial institutions. The program represented a paradigm shift in which international financial institutions formed the basis of development support. Before, programs of development used to follow the paradigm of market liberation. Under the Washington consensus of the early 1990s, the programs used to adhere to deregulation (World bank 1991: 6).

Development aid and policy reforms in the 1990s concentrated on the significance of institutions for the development process. This was a critical means for international financial institutions to discover development achievements. The 1997 World Development Report can be viewed as the initial step that established the pragmatic basis for the HIPC and therein embedded poverty reduction strategy (Schweickert 25).

The new approach, also referred commonly as Post Washington Consensus, was later embraced by the international community when they committed themselves to Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2000 (World Bank 2003:7). The international community also pledged to raise donor assistance at a donor conference held in 2000. The IMF and the World Bank considered debt relief under the HIPC program as the latest effort of development towards poverty reduction. The conditionality of the program was built upon reform programs of the World Bank of the 1990s. However, the program design, its interactions, and coordination with other international financial institutions made up a new area of World Bank and IMF activities (World bank 1997: 60).

In the 1980s, there was absolute recognition of structural reasons for poverty by international financial institutions. This prompted these institutions to move away from project support to the balance of payment support (Cammack 2003: 157). They also attached policy reforms to the transfer of resources (funds). This was a period characterized by the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment lending. This program had led to funded countries accumulating more debts (World Bank 1994: 3).

Some affected countries during this period threatened to default. Many countries, especially in Latin America slept deep into debt in the mid-1980s. as a result, the first initiative to relieve developing nations of their debts was mooted. Under the new initiative (Brady Plan), commercial banks were encouraged unsuccessfully to write off some of their debts with funds offered by International Financial Institutions (World Bank 1991: 3). Nevertheless, donor agencies continued to assist countries with weak governance systems.

The emerging debt crises of the 1980s made the International Monetary Fund establish new debt reducing guidelines in 1989 (IMF/World Bank Development Committee 26). The IMF also offered assistance for commercial bank debt and debt service reduction operations. Then, the bank had already constituted The Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) in 1987. through this program, the IMF offered low-interest loans to poor nations.

Questions about the neo-classicisms embodied in the Washington Consensus and the policy conditions inherent to the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs increased immensely in the 1990s (World Bank 1991: 61). The civil society and like-minded scholars upped up sustained criticism of these programs. This led to a new emphasis on democracy and good governance combined with an invitation for participatory planning and for the appraisal of development projects. Hence, development aid drastically changed its shape and content for the second time in the 1990s (Guillermo 1).

The first dramatic changes resulted due to the need to overcome colonial relations. This was followed by a drastic change in the nature and content of development assistance that took place at the end of the cold war. This consisted of both pre and post-Washington Consensus periods (Schweickert 25). Development programs at the end of the cold war became more comprehensive in their approach calling for the implementation of good governance, rule of law, and democracy.

The reforms had been disguised as measures of anti-corruption, accountability promotion, and transparency in the implementation of the rule of law (Ridden 81). Each of these components was introduced into the reform catalogs of the IMF and World Bank after economic approval of their significance for economic development. Governance or lack of it was expressed in phenomena such as corruption and were recognized as development issues (World Bank 1997: 60).

Sub-Sahara Africa was most quoted in the above respect in the 1989 World Bank report. It marked the start of debates on good governance within the World Bank (Lundahi 182). The same held true for the social capital concept as employed by social development specialists at the World Bank. This served to address the territory of the intervention of social capital. This social concept was adopted by economists at the World Bank, thus making it serviceable for World Bank reform programs. Poverty reduction programs were also considered along those lines as development issues that warranted the World Bank and IMF actions (World Bank 60).

Enhance HICP Initiative

This initiative was established in 1999 at a G7 summit in Cologne. it provided three types of modification to the initial initiative: entry conditions were relaxed and debt forgiveness deepened; the time duration of the initiative was slightly reduced and simplified, and PRSP became the framework for the strategic partnership of the HIPC initiative (Sender 27). Evidently, the enlargement of the initiative resulted from its previous prudent character. It becomes visibly clear by 1999 that the original HIPC initiative did not respond sufficiently to the problem of low-income countries’ debt. The policies were also driven by international public opinion that seized on the question of poor countries’ debts (Evans 53).

It is important to note that the shortening of the period was relative. The interim period, between the decision point and the completion point, became more flexible instead of being fixed at three years, and debt relief was granted from the beginning. The pre-conditions of a three-year program were however retained. Above all, the new condition imposed by the need to prepare a PRSP to reach the decision point constitutes a real constraint. The complex exercise was a complete novelty for nations involved, and preparation of a PRSP, if performed in good faith, can only be the result of a lengthy and difficult process (Craig 60).

The essential impact caused by the enhanced HIPC initiative comes from the relationship that is established with the PRSP process. This relationship marked the real end of structural adjustment programs. The PRSP became the obligatory framework for partnership between poor countries and donors (Bataille 879). Apart from the modernity of PRSPs and their emphasis on the question of poverty, removal of the HIPC initiative from the structural adjustment program represents an essential step to enable the proposition of real new solutions to the treatment of debt. The crisis of multilateral debt was a direct result of structural adjustment.

It was barely convincing to seek to treat log term sustainability of this debt within the same mechanism that was the cause of insolvency. The enlargement of the initiative to include low-income countries and its greater ambition compared to previous exercises necessitated the adoption of a new framework for partnership (Craig 55).

Does Poverty Reduction Programme led by World Bank really have an Impact?

In 1990, the World Bank communicated its renewed focus on poverty reduction. This was articulated in the World Development Report on poverty in 1990, where it stated:

The evidence in this report suggests that rapid and politically sustainable progress on poverty has been achieved by pursuing a strategy that has two equally important elements. The first element is to promote the productive use of the poor’s most abundant asset, that is, labor. It calls for policies that harness market incentives, social and political institutions, infrastructure, and technology to that end. The second is to provide basic social services to the poor, primary health care, family planning, nutrition, and primary education are especially important (World Bank 1991: 3).

The World Bank proposed programs that involved social and governmental relations and institutions from the beginning. However, the two elements of the poverty reduction strategy were complementary. The World Bank intended elements market incentives, social and political organizations, infrastructure and technology to be directed towards extracting productive labor from the poor. On the other hand, it expected investment in primary health care, family planning, nutrition, and primary education to enhance and sustain the ability of the poor to deliver the required productive labor (World bank 1994: 23).

Simultaneously, the World Bank also sought to block funding to states that were not serious about the issues of reducing poverty (World Bank 1994: 137). The bank had proposed at the outset that the strategy was regarded as applicable to the whole aid community.

According to the World Bank, the outlined aid strategy would have increased effectiveness if adopted and followed consistently by bilateral donors, NGOs, and multinational agencies (World Bank 1997: 4). In principle, the World Bank intended to draw the aid community as a whole into the strategy of global mobilization of the productive labor of the poor. The poverty reduction strategy included the neoliberal policy package of liberalization and privatization. It was also not assumed that the state was consigned to a minimal role. This was contradicted in the World Banks 1991 World Development Report which stated:

Markets cannot operate in a vacuum; they require a legal and regulatory framework that only governments can provide. And, at many other tasks, markets sometimes prove inadequate or fail altogether. That’s why governments must, for example, invest in infrastructure and provide essential services to the poor. It is not the question of state or market; each has a large and irreplaceable role (World Bank 1991: 1).

Washington Consensus

More emphasis was placed on primary education, health, the environment, and infrastructure development as the project took effect in the early 1990s. The bank emphasized stable macroeconomic framework provision intended to win private-sector confidence; create a competitive environment within which enterprise could grow; integrate economies into global economies; and invest in people to supplement the market in areas of health, education, nutrition, and family planning (Cammack 2002a: 166). The World Bank envisaged that macroeconomic foundation would be aided by microeconomic discipline. For instance, the 1991 report by the World Bank, it stated:

In reappraising their spending priorities, implementing tax reform, reforming the financial sector, privatizing state-owned enterprises, and using charges to recover the cost of some state-provided services, governments can meet the goals of microeconomic efficiency and microeconomic efficiency and microeconomic stability at the same time (World Bank 1991: 9).

This strategy by the World Bank intended to shape the majority poor as the proletariat in the future, but at the same time, a minority would emerge as small entrepreneurs and farmers. This promoted primitive accumulation, that is, the historical process of separating producers from the means of production which produces both capital and a proletariat. It also promoted capitalist accumulation, where the self-reproducing process was driven by the extraction of surplus-value which becomes possible once a capitalist class confronts a true proletariat or a class obliged to sell its labor power to survive (Cammack 2001a: 14). The strategy was viewed as seeking to place all people in the umbrella of the world market. This encouraged the growth in the global character of the capitalist regime (Evans 53).

The World Bank and the IMF sought to develop a set of operating principles and practices of a competitive global capitalist economy and for individual countries within it. The institutions also aimed at promoting and supervising their institutionalization across the world.

This strategy needed an active and a supporter of the capitalist state, advocated by the World Bank since 1990, and was consistent with a structure of neo-liberalisms a reassertion of the laws of capitalist reproduction, a strategy to both hasten primitive accumulation, or global proletarianization, and to enforce the laws of capitalists accumulation throughout the enlarged space of the capitalist world economy (World Bank 1997: 61).

The World Bank was consistently neoliberal in orientation on this view. Thus, the Bank’s anti-poverty strategies, far from being a shift away from the neoliberal revolution were a means of completing it. The World Bank had envisaged in its proposal, to reduce absolute poverty by half from 1990-2015 (Cammack 2002a: 126). it also envisaged an efficient global labor market in which the existing proletariat would float easily in and out of work.

In its targets, the World Bank implicitly recognizes the reduction rather than elimination of absolute poverty. This means that a section of absolutely poor people will continue to exist, according to the World Bank as a reservoir for further workers, and a source of discipline to the rest. Thus it sought to create a global reserve of labor available at a wage of $1-2 per day (Cammack 2001a 194-198).

Post Washington Consensus

The appointment of Joseph Stieglitz in 1997 as Chief Economist of the World Bank reinforced reconsideration of the Washington Consensus. Stieglitz has been associated with the critique of the IMF and Washington Consensus neoliberal orthodoxy (Schweickert 25)). He strongly argued for a reconsideration of the Washington Consensus, which, according to him, had advocated the utilization of minor sets of instruments which include: macroeconomic stability; liberalized trade; and privatization (Stieglitz 13). In addition, while the Washington Consensus may not have been adequate for development, certain successful performance indicators paid little attention to it.

It no longer sufficed to examine economic issues with a narrow focus; development now engaged transformational society, implied issues of sustainability, equity, and democracy (Stieglitz 13). In the economic realm, that is, the core focus of Washington Consensus, it had been at best incomplete and at worst misguided. Further, the Washington Consensus focus on inflation had resulted in macroeconomic policies that were not favorable to long term growth. It had also detracted attention from other sources of macroeconomic instability such as weak financial sectors (Cammack 2001a:56).

The focus on trade liberalization, deregulation, and privatization by the Washington Consensus, had been to the disadvantage of significant other conditions for stability and long term development. These included: financial systems that were robust which required a strong legal framework as well as regulatory and oversight institutions, regulation for those industries that have been privatized, competition policies, investments in human capital, technological policies, and others (Schweickert 3).

The government was to complement the market in all these areas. The new strategy, that is, Post Washington Consensus, sought broader goals. Development was no longer viewed as a mere interplay of economic variables, rather a holistic process, a transformation of society. Previous strategies of development had only focused on sections of transformation often failing miserably (Stieglitz 5).

These failures were more visibly through their narrow focus on economics, conceiving development as a technical problem requiring technical solutions (Stieglitz 6). The Comprehensive Development Framework established by the World Bank President endorsed the holistic broad-based strategy to development. Limitations on development were not structural and social, not remediable solely through economic stabilization and structural adjustments (World Bank 1997 25).

The Post Washington Consensus tried in principle to move beyond the reductionist conception of development process characterized by a macroeconomic bias towards price incentives and focus on physical capital as the predominant constraint on growth. The new strategy further sought to project a different view of interactions between society and state. Later development became an inter-sectoral cooperation process following the 1997 World Development Report. The projected clash between state and society/market had given way to the notion of partnership. This led to the private and public sector to become intertwined.

The market persistent failure and missing markets were increasingly recognized. Such failures no longer implied old-style government intervention where the state supplanted the market. Modern ways were to be adopted. In addition, with different sources and levels of market dysfunction, the implication for the role of state could differ significantly across nations (World Bank 1997 26). The issue turned out to be a quest for a particular institutional setup, that is, a partnership between state and society; private profit, and nonprofit sectors, that maximize benefits to society. Critically, the state had to ensure that market failures were overcome without imposing unnecessary costs on society.

The Post Washington Consensus attempted to recast the World Bank’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the era of Washington Consensus, that is, the era of structural adjustments had entailed important overlaps in activities undertaken by the World Bank and IMF. This restyling of the World Bank’s agenda implied an explicit differentiation of its activities, and hence, a separate role with the IMF. This was reiterated by the World Bank President, Wolfensohn, in the 1998 Annual Meeting of Breton Woods institutions, when he stated:

In rewriting the 1989 Concordat which governed the relations between the World Bank and the IMF, the institutions have reasserted the conventional demarcation between the IMF’s predominantly short-term macroeconomic focus and the Bank’s longer-term structural focus. Nevertheless, when the new strategy gave a platform for opposition to the revered policies of the Washington Consensus, the fragility of the new consensus swiftly occurred (Wolfensohn 16).

As President of the World Bank, Wolfensohn introduced and developed a strategic program that ensured that resources were sufficient to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people. The program also ensured that those resources were utilized efficiently and transparently. This provided the World Bank with a broader and more integrated approach to growth and development to ensure sustainability; strengthening partnerships and expanding partnerships, both local and international; and continuing to pursue a change in the Bank’s culture to focus on excellence and results (Wolfensohn 1996).

Hence, the World Bank sought to coordinate its activities with other international financial institutions, engage with its critics, and potential partners in Civil Societies and NGOs and also sought to increase its leverage over policies and institutions of client governments through the reform of its own organization and development of a comprehensive framework and means to propagate it (). The World Bank was required to be a catalyst for resources for development, and a partner for private capital, with the main aim of promoting domestic reform.

This was the context within which Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiate was established, and remained the framework within which the World Bank operates. According to Wolfensohn, 75 % of private capital flows benefitted only 12 developing countries while 50 of the poorest nations received non at all. He noted:

Our new world of open markets raises the stakes for developing countries. Investment is linked to good policies and good governance. Liberal trade regimes and high saving rates combined with sound legal and judicial systems. Simply put, capital goes to those countries that get the fundamentals right. And we are working with our clients on those fundamentals (Wolfensohn 1998 17).

This encouraged a commitment to financial sector reform, efficient management of resources, transparency, and reduction of corruption. To actualize these, the World Bank intended to make poor nations more hospitable to private capital. The broader development integrated strategy was to be designed on this premise. In the same period, Wolfensohn identified socio-cultural and institutional factors as necessary for the success of the broader approach focused on poverty reduction. In his arguments in relation to East Asia, he notes that those countries had stable institutions and social cohesion that enable the select sound macroeconomic policies, promote rural development and carry large investments in basic education and health

A set of propositions were reflected by the new agenda and had turned to be increasingly common in developing economics. These borrowed on a collection of mainstream innovations, which rejected an implicit framework of general equilibrium and exogenous growth. More particularly, the assumptions that regarded market structure, attributes of the economic agent, and characteristics of production and presence of complete sets markets were challenged with a set of theoretical innovations. Each of these had significant implications for the functions of the price system.

Is the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme by the World Bank really meaningful?

It is important to assess what the meaning of post-Washington Consensus had been, and can be, for both aid policy and of the World Bank and the understanding of development. A closer examination of current bank practice reveals a microeconomic stance in which the Washington Consensus is still active. According to this strategy, proposals to allocate aid flow selectively from. Considering the assertions of aid and conditionality effectiveness, it is arguable that aid only contributes to development when good policies and institutions prevail.

Thereupon, the World Bank proposed a two-pronged strategy to aid allocation: channel lending to countries with appropriate policy/institutional environments, and utilize non-lending services to support the emergence of sound policies and good governance in nations lacking this parameter. As clearly mentioned in the World Bank policy document (Ridden 81):

In sum, there is no value in providing large amounts of money to a country with poor policies, even if it technically commits to the conditions of a reform program. In countries with poor policies donors should concentrate on activities that might support reforms in the long run: oversees scholarships; dissemination of ideas about policy reforms and development, and stimulation of debate in civil society. The role of international financial institutions should be to disseminate information that might influence public dialogue about policy reform (World Bank 1998a 58-59).

In sum, in the context of a proposition regarding the role of the state, it is factual that compared to the rolling back of the state; a precept of Washington consensus; some progress seems to have been realized with the post-Washington Consensus. This was a stronger recognition of the importance of the state for the sound working of the economy. The role of the Washington consensus remains confined to create a conducive environment for the private sector to play its dynamic role in development. Essentially, the government is there to improve the institutional environment in which private agents steer their interaction in socially desirable directions…

Cammack (2002c 37) posits that the World Bank presented a means of incorporating social and structural policies into a program previously dominated by macroeconomic policy alone. This is actually a means of shaping social and structural policies so that they reinforce and extent macroeconomic discipline, and subordinating them to imperatives of capitalist accumulation. The World Bank demands individual country ownership for the reason it lacks the capacity to enforce the strategy itself. In addition, the legitimatization of its program around the globe depends upon its adoption by national governments, which remained indispensable intermediaries in the project for global governance.

The disciplinary character of the Central Depository Fund is most clearly reflected in the mechanisms for surveillance embedded within it. The attached matrix vividly described by Wolfensohn.as a summary management tool which allows quick observation of what goes on around the country from the point of view of structural and social development and shows what is not going on (Wolfensohn 1999 28).

The CDF turned to be the basis for the enhancement of the 1996 Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative with the introduction of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) in 1999. a review of this initiative a year later carried out within the scheme drew attention to the tension between country ownership on one hand, and the need for proposed policies to pass assessments of the IMF and the World Bank on the other.

The alleged interest of NGOs keen on international financial institutions to propose priorities for action, and countries often lacking the expertise to draw up policy proposals of the type required, the Bank had settled for guidance that does not breach the principle of ownership in the context of partnerships (Joint missions) to discuss strategy formulations with governments. The developed a PRSP sourcebook offering guidance on best practices and to organize outreach and learning events. These assisted PRSP countries to eventually own their own policies, but were not their authors in practice, nor was it ever intended they would be (Cammack 2002c 47-49).

The World Bank poverty reduction strategies were well thought through. For instance, the 1997 World Development Report set local involvement in a disciplinary macroeconomic framework. The report was explicit elsewhere about the underlying logic. This means that bringing government closer to the people will only be effective if it is part of a larger strategy for improving the institutional capability of the state (World Bank 1997, 111). The bank viewed the state as a partner, facilitator, and catalyst rather than the provider (World Bank 1). According to the World Bank, this entailed the need to redefine the state and re-educate the citizens:

Getting societies to accept a re-definition of the state’s responsibilities will be one part of the solution. This will include a strategic selection of the collective actions that states will try to promote, coupled with greater efforts to take the burden off the state, by involving citizens and communities in the delivery of collective goods (World Bank 3).

The policy was also translated into the language of empowerment. It was e-stated as enabling the state to be more responsible for citizens’ needs, moving the government closer to people through broader involvement and decentralization. Through the policies of decentralization, the World Bank aimed to achieve the following within the program: to pressurize the state to deliver essential services efficiently; to share the cost of delivery with the beneficiaries themselves and induce people to experience tightly controlled and carefully delimited forms of market supporting activity as empowerment. Participation as a consequence, can either enhance or ruin the capacity of the state (World Bank 120).


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