GB No. 1(20)/96
Throughout the world the multilateral development banks (MDBs) are playing an increasingly significant role in economic development. For about six years such finance institutions as European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and especially, the World Bank (WB) have become very active in Central and Eastern Europe.
Ostensibly, the purpose of such institutions is to advise developing countries in making investment choices, and to provide loans which these countries can use to improve their infrastructures, economies, and environment (for example one of the most important EBRD's goals is to "promote in the full range of its activities environmentally sound and sustainable development" - sic!). In reality, however, the activities of these institutions sometimes have devastating impacts on the environment, people and societies. The WB finances huge, ecologically destructive projects, which its own advisory committee recommends against. The IMF introduces programmes and policies which erode social harmony and ignore cultural tradition. Also many projects financed by EBRD are very controversial.
Poland, like other countries of this region, is still a country in transition. The Polish economy is developing towards that of free market, decentralised and democratic system. The so-called "shock therapy" economic policies have caused major changes in a short period of time. Needing huge sums of money to repair, modernise, and create infrastructure systems the Polish Government has sought, and received, substantial assistance from MDBs in the form of loans and policy advice. World Bank, IMF and EBRD have, in a very short time, become influential forces in shaping Polish national policy, while also granting Poland huge credits. Till now for example the World Bank has provided Poland in 19 loans in total amount of 3657,00mln USD, and about 15 projects are under preparation. EBRD and EIB, but also the World Bank (in form of guarantee) are very much involved in Polish highway programme and try to force this option instead of sustainable transport.
On the other hand, MDBs can have an important role to play in Poland's transformation. They can provide policy expertise that might not be available from Poles themselves and they can offer access to financial resources which simply not exist in Poland. Furthermore, well conceived MDB projects, which adequately incorporate environmental and social concerns, can be of great benefit to society. There is, however, considerable cause for the Polish public to be concerned about MDB activities in Poland.
The relative newness of MDB activity in Poland, and simply the lack of knowledge about these activities has resulted in the Polish NGO community being largely unaware and uninvolved in MDB activities here. That was the main reason of setting up, by the Polish Ecological Club, at the beginning of 1994, a new programme called "NGOs & BANKs". The first main goal of the programme is to make people, especially from environmental NGOs, aware of the fact, that there is a direct link between MDB activity in Poland and standards of the environment and try to make them involved in public participation process during MDBs' projects preparation and implementation. Another goal is to have impact on Banks' policy and procedures in order to shape them to be environmentally friendly. None of these goals are easy to fulfil. Many of MDBs' projects are kept confidential, especially these financing private sector, and it is very difficult or sometimes almost impossible to get information. Also our government is very resistant to the public participation process and they hardly organise it. In our Programme we focus on collecting and disseminating information about both individual projects and general Banks' policies and procedures. We also try to support concrete actions and influence decision-making. To disseminate information we use our "NGOs & BANKs" newsletter and brochures focused on specific economic sectors or individual issues like for ex. Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant, highways and others. In October 1994 a big conference was organised to discuss MDB issues. A lot of people, environmentalists, experts, Bank personnel took part in that conference and discussed many aspects of Financial Institutions activity in our country. Materials from the conference are still available in PKE office in Kraków. We try also to be involved in other national and international campaigns, which are connected with MDBs.
More or less the same situation as in Poland we can observe in other CEE countries. The topic, which means also the problem of MDB activity, is quite new for many environmental groups in such countries as: Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary or Romania. In all these countries the model of MDBs activity is more or less as we can observe it in Poland. The key sectors of Banks' interest in these countries are: transport, forestry management and energy. Negotiations between these institutions and governments are largely kept confidential, with little public participation in decisions which will have profound impacts on societies, communities and environment.
All these problems we (it means eight environmental groups from eight Central and Eastern European countries) have decided to treat as challenges. In June 1995 we established CEE Bankwatch Network - Central and Eastern Europe NGO Network for Monitoring Activities of International Financial Institutions. The Network contains of eight environmental groups from: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic and Romania. NGOs and BANKs Project is the Polish part of the Network activity in Poland. The objectives of the Network are: to stimulate public awareness of the activities of MDBs in the CEE and their environmental impacts, place NGOs in a position where they can influence negotiations between the government and MDBs, monitor the development and implementation of MDB funded projects and supported policies, and propose alternative policies and projects that are more sustainable and that will positively benefit the environment. The Network try to accomplish these goals primarily by: collecting and disseminating information about the activities of MDBs in the region, helping NGOs to be able to participate in environmental decision-making, developing co-operative working relationship among Eastern European environmentalists, undertaking selective advocacy activities vis a vis the various international financial institutions, particularly in the areas of forestry, energy and transportation.
Since MDBs are indeed international, and they are active within all CEE countries, it is clear that only strong cooperation between these countries can influence their projects and policies. In the CEE region the campaign to oppose the completion of the Nuclear Power Plant in Mochovce (Slovakia) is an excellent example of such regional cooperation which also involved partners from Western Europe and USA. The success of such cooperation was a motivation and example for setting up the CEE Bankwatch Network.
NGOs and BANKs Project Coordinator
Polish Ecological Club