Accountability towards individuals and communities affected by the World Bank Development Interventions: a project law approach
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This thesis sets out to explore the reasons why individuals and communities affected by development operations are generally unable to influence and control the content of development interventions, and also how this disadvantaged position could potentially be ameliorated. The aim is to identify systematic and conceptual shortcomings at the governance level – that is, the issues that are valid on their own account and do not rely on the ideological stance about sustainable development. Accordingly, the thesis suggests four principles of accountability that, if implemented, would ensure a more balanced governance of development projects. It then explores whether and how decision-making in the context of World Bank financing currently adheres to these principles, both in terms of substantive standards of accountability and the procedural mechanisms that are put in place to uphold these standards. The analysis goes beyond the classic emphasis on the World Bank’s founding treaties, or enforcement of operational policies through the Inspection Panel. Instead, the thesis introduces the distinction between general (public international and domestic law), specialized (operational policies) and project-specific (agreements) rules, which, it is argued, are all directly relevant in the context of individual interventions. The notion of ‘project law’ is suggested as a helpful theoretical construct that enables such an analysis across traditional categories of sources. On the whole, ‘project law’ emphasizes the problematic link between different rules at the project level and points towards some fundamental difficulties of ensuring accountability for development transactions. The key argument of the thesis is that affected persons should be explicitly recognised under ‘project law’ and that such status could be useful in devising a system of accountability at the project level. It is also suggested that the governance of development interventions would benefit from better defined and more stringent public law rules and procedures, since these would clarify the limits of contractual freedom within ‘project law’. As a result of such greater certainty, it would be easier to hold decision-makers to account. Under the current system of World Bank financing, such improvements would be contingent primarily on the will of those who hold decision-making power, and their consent to be subjected to a more stringent accountability regime. In other words, whilst the legal tools may exist, there is also a need for the political will to use them.