In May this year, the G8 called upon the multilateral development banks to support democratisation and economic development in the post-revolutionary countries in North Africa. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was one of those banks even though it had no experience or mandate to operate in the Mediterranean.
Reacting quickly, the EBRD’s shareholders agreed to expand its operations to North Africa and the Board of Directors developed principles under which these operations will be conducted.
Unfortunately the EBRD circulated the Board’s decisions and documents only to the governments. The bank rejected a request by Bankwatch to disclose those documents before September 30 – the end of the “consulation period”. This approach gives no chance to the concerned public and NGOs, especially those from North Africa, to meaningfully participate in decision-making on issues likely to shape their future. As the EBRD is well aware about Southern Mediterranean civil society’s concerns, this “transparency gap” does not bode well for the future.
Yesterday the EBRD President invited a small group of international non-governmental organisations (Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, Open Society Institute and Bankwatch) for a discussion on its plans. The NGOs raised a number of concerns about the current situation in countries that aspire to receive EBRD funding: eg. media restrictions in Morocco or Jordan, or the almost 12,000 civilians who are facing military tribunals – more than the total number of civilians who faced the same trials during the Hosni Mubarak era. While the EBRD recognised those issues it also remains committed to fast track its operations in the region.
One of the common themes of all groups participating in yesterday’s meeting was the need for full transparency and consultations about the EBRD’s plans in the region.
After the Technical Assistance phase (using bi-lateral aid) which will be focusing on countries and sector specific studies, it is expected that the EBRD will quickly setup a regional fund in order to enable the start of investment even before the countries become official recipient members of the bank.
The process of starting the fund’s operation will be a key test of the EBRD’s commitments to enhancing democracy and transparency in this region. We can judge it by the following benchmarks:
- Will the EBRD disclose its assessment of the political and human rights situation in the respective countries, as it is committed to do in its current Country Strategies? Will these assessment be subject to consultations with the public?
- Will all studies funded by technical assistance be publicly available?
- Will the fund(s) establishment be consulted with the concerned public in those countries?
- Will the fund commit to disclose all of its projects to the public, including the final beneficiaries of the loans to intermediary banks? Will those projects funded fully follow EBRD policies on social or environmental issues?
- Will there be annual audits/evaluations of the fund which will be disclosed to the public?
Yesterday’s meeting was a start after four months of complete silence on behalf of the bank. It remains to be seen if it will be a start of a meaningful and transparent process of setting up the EBRD’s operations in the Southern Mediterranean region which will truly prioritise the people’s needs and will benefit those who need most the support of public money.