In order to facilitate transparency and be guided during the implementation of its new Forests policy, the Bank announced that it would set up an External Advisory Group (EAG) to interact with the Bank. The group would ‘have the task of providing independent advice’ on forests to the Bank, ‘and have the right to disclose those recommendations’. This group would include people from client governments, indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society, the private sector, the ‘international forest community’, and multilateral and bilateral agencies.
None of this is true. Instead the Bank hand picked a small group of persons who stand on the EAG in an individual capacity but drawn from RECOFTC, IUCN, CIFOR, FAO, CoFO, Government of Ghana, Forest Trends and one NGO in Papua New Guinea. There are no representatives of local communities, indigenous peoples, the private sector or bilateral agencies. The EAG has met three times since 2003 but, despite requests from the EAG itself, the Bank has not released any information whatsoever about its structure, membership, or terms of reference. Nor have the minutes of its meetings and the recommendations of the EAG been made available outside the Bank.
NGOs have repeatedly asked the Bank for clarification about the EAG but the process remains opaque. Far from acting as a mechanism of transparency, and notwithstanding the good intentions of EAG members, the EAG is in effect just a smokescreen behind which the Bank can hide its non-compliance with its new policy.
The effectiveness of the EAG has been tested by the case of the Bank’s involvement in the forest sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC ). This represents one of the biggest forestry challenges the Bank has faced since the adoption of the new forest policy, and has been highly controversial (see article “Democratic Republic of Congo –after the war, the fight for the forest” in this issue). The members of the EAG were contacted by the Rainforest Foundation in February 2003, and informed that the Bank’s actions jeopardised the future of the world’s second largest area of rainforest – as well as the future of millions of people dependent on it – and was in blatant contravention of the Bank’s Forest Strategy. In response, the Foundation was informed that many of the EAG’s members shared the Foundation’s key concerns, but that the Chair of the group “is the only person authorized to speak on its behalf”.
The EAG Chair responded in March 2004, noting that: “the group is currently in a formative stage and yet to evolve its mandate, methodology and means to address the kind of issues you have raised. On my part, I am seeking a meeting with WB officials and calling for an early meeting of EAG to hasten the process. I will keep you informed”.
Nothing has been heard since.
By Marcus Colchester, Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail: Marcus@forestpeoples.org, http://www.forestpeoples.org, and Simon Counsell, The Rainforest Foundation UK, e-mail: email@example.com, http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org