Tale/innlegg | Dato: 28.11.2006
- We want to find out what is the status regarding the use of conditionality by the World Bank and the IMF. And based on this status, we want to discuss the way forward, Minister of International Development Erik Solheim said when he opened the Oslo Conference this week. (30.11.06)
Minister of International Development Erik Solheim
Welcome speech at the Oslo Conference on Conditionality
Oslo, 28 November 2006
Good morning everybody, and welcome to the Oslo Conference on Conditionality.
On my way to the Ministry this morning I passed a bookstore. In the window the store had posted its slogan: “The real cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity”
I have been asked why Norway is arranging this event, and what we hope to achieve by it. I think the slogan is a good starting point: We want to find out what is the status regarding the use of conditionality by the World Bank and the IMF. And based on this status, we want to discuss the way forward. So curiosity should be the slogan for this conference, as it should be for everybody every day of every year.
We are very happy to see so many institutions, NGO’s and governments represented here today. My government is a firm believer in dialogue with all relevant parties.
The Norwegian Government has stated in its policy platform that it does not want to support projects or programmes that are conditional upon privatisation or liberalisation. This is not to say that all programmes that include privatisation or liberalisation are wrong. That is very different. We believe that it is more appropriate to let borrowing countries make their own policy choices. Moreover, as the World Bank pointed out in its 2005 Conditionality Review, strong conditionality without local ownership and leadership has failed to produce lasting change.
If we look to the industrialized world or to those countries that we admire for having succeeded in creating economic growth, we will find that there is no fixed pattern. Some countries have in the public sector what other countries have in the private sector.
For me there is a great difference between privatising a corruptly run air line and privatising education or health, sectors that we in Norway tend to consider natural public tasks. Again, the decisions must be taken by the individual countries.
In some countries privatisation might be a way out of problems related to corruption. In other countries privatisation will be simply to transfer a large part of the national fortune to the hands of private individuals.
Looking to small countries in South-Asia, from which I have some experience, I’ve seen the World Bank behave in very different ways. In Sri Lanka the World Bank was outstanding. Hardly any other international organisation had the same skills in conflict management or had developed the same level of conflict sensitivity. The World Bank really understood the root causes of the conflict in Sri Lanka and contributed to bring the peace process forward.
Based on the experiences with the World Bank in Sri Lanka, it was quite surprising to come to Nepal just after the King had given back the power to the people of Nepal. Please note that Nepal in May this year was like Norway was in May 1945, after the Germans had capitulated. I’ve never been to a country with such energy as Nepal this spring. It was an outburst of freedom. People from all walks of life felt that this was their hour. The local World Bank-office, however, was busy with the issue of privatisation of printing houses for school books. Quite frankly, I was shocked by the approach of the World Bank in these circumstances.
Maybe this is just a question of personalities. I do not know, but I think researchers should look into the performance of the World Bank and the IMF across countries.
Credit for inspiring this Conference must go to our friends from Oxfam, who brought up the idea of holding a conference on conditionality in Norway during their visit to Oslo earlier this year.
The main reason for staging this conference is that the IMF and the World Bank and the NGO community give very different answers to the question of whether the financial institutions still place undue pressure on governments to privatise and/or liberalise their economies.
I have therefore asked my staff in the Ministry to find out more about the realities on the ground, and look forward to the presentation of the results of the investigations here at the Conference later today.
Deng Xiao Ping transformed the Chinese economy very much based on one slogan: “You should seek the truth in the facts”. This should also be the basis for the debate here.
Before I close, please note that there is nothing wrong with conditionality as such. Any loan is coming and has always come with some kind of conditionality. If not, it is a gift. The basic conditions are there to ensure that the loan is paid back. But that is of course very different from establishing conditions based on ideological perceptions of what is the right thing to do. This is what we are opposed to and what we want to look into
I’ve said that this government believes in dialogue. We also believe in openness. I think that all problems are more easily resolved if they are put out in the open. For too long too much have been done behind closed doors. The more we can put it out in the open through debates in forums like this, and in the society at large, the more likely we are to succeed. Let this be the spirit of this conference; let us seek the truth in the facts.