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By Nathalie Janne d’Othée
At the beginning of December last year, CADTM invited various organizations to meet with Najib Akesbi, a Moroccan professor and researcher currently in lawsuits against the World Bank. The matter deserves attention, since it was the first time that the World Bank accepted a summons to appear… to finally invoke its immunity.
The process, although not successful, nevertheless raised some questions regarding the credibility and accountability of the international financial institution. The process was about an investigation called "Ruralstruc" carried out by the World Bank.
At the end of 2005 Najib Akesbi was contacted by a French IRAD researcher, put at the disposal of the World Bank to coordinate the research program in question. Akesbi accepted and committed to his colleagues Mohamed Mahdi and Driss Benatya because such a program was adapted to the field of research in which they have been working for many years.
The Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinary Institute in Rabat, where the researchers work, agreed to carry out the first phase of the research, which developed the framework within which the data from the second phase would be analyzed. The results of this first phase were interesting and even led to a publication in 2008.
For the second phase, the World Bank called a Moroccan research office for the operational phase of collecting land and analyzing the data.
This office, for its part, signed a consulting contract with the researchers who had worked in the first phase. Researchers quickly realized that the data collected was unreliable due to numerous shortcomings in the data collection and processing phase. They requested access to the database in order to recover what was possible, but were denied it. After repeating the request, they also terminated the contract. And, even more serious, at the same time, the World Bank partners ordered the investigation office to arbitrarily modify the data (that is, to falsify them) and include them in the final report behind the back - and against the will - of the Moroccan researchers .
Mohamed Mahdi, Driss Benatya and Najib Akesbi Faced with such serious acts, the investigators turned to the "mediation and ethics" bodies of the World Bank, without results. They then questioned the other project partners, including CIRAD, AFD and IFAD, to no avail. Finally, they addressed the Moroccan political leaders (Government, Parliament) but did not get a response either. Therefore, as a last resort, Najib Akesbi and his colleagues opted for the courts.
The claim is for "the crime of falsehood; falsification and use of false documents and usurpation of property and names ”, based on the fact that the World Bank published a study where they were“ usurped ”and where some results are falsified (1).
Who is the World Bank accountable to? In the first place, and since it is situated in the framework of a process, a purely legal question arises: Can the World Bank be judged? When opting for the process, Moroccan investigators and their legal advisers first had to evaluate whether or not they could prosecute the World Bank. Since its creation, only one lawsuit for harassment of a World Bank employee in the United States has been known so far and the rest were rejected by the competent jurisdiction.
The court proceedings had, on the contrary, the following mention: «We are convinced that the members of the World Bank have intended to waive the Bank's immunity only for actions directed at their external activities and contracts and not for actions caused by their officials ”(2).
That would mean, then, that the external actions of the World Bank could be put on trial. Furthermore, the plaintiffs rely on an investigation carried out by the CADTM which concludes that the World Bank can be tried under Article 7, section 3 of its own statutes: has jurisdiction in the territories of a member state where the Bank has a branch where it has appointed an agent to receive requests or notifications of requests, or where it has issued or guaranteed shares ”.
Given that the World Bank has an office in Rabat, it is clear that he can be prosecuted. After many delays, the World Bank office in Rabat finally agreed to appear before the Moroccan justice, which is a world first. But before the court, his lawyers continued to appeal for diplomatic immunity, invoking this time not the statutes of the Bank, but "the headquarters agreement", signed with the Moroccan authorities in 1998 ... In fact, behind this purely legal question arises the broader issue of the institution's accountability.
Who is the World Bank accountable to? In Belgium, World Bank financing is guaranteed by the development cooperation budget, while the decision-making power rests with SPF Finances. Belgium also provides structural funding, which is therefore not linked to specific projects, but to the overall functioning of the institution.
A global financing, a hybrid management, brings together all the elements so that the Belgian control of the budgets assigned to the World Bank is difficult.
However, the practices of the World Bank often go against the orientations defended by the Belgian cooperation.
Implications in the field of agriculture In order to avoid a judgment of intentions, Najib Akesbi and his colleagues considered that this was not the issue, but those who falsified the data in their report had to explain why they committed such a serious act. But in any case it is good to bring to light this type of practices of the institution the approach that has pushed them to the process.
Indeed, the World Bank has considerable influence on the policies, especially agricultural ones, carried out by the governments of the South. And the World Bank essentially promotes liberalization, the opening of markets, in short everything for the market and business.
A position that often goes against the economic and social rights of the populations of the countries that must follow its recommendations. During a round table on policy coherence for the right to food organized in 2013 in the Federal Parliament, NGOs already brought to light the separation between Belgian policy on support for family farming and security food (3), as well as the practices of the World Bank, which consist of encouraging land grabbing.
NGOs also pointed to the lack of control by Belgian policy makers over the policies carried out by the World Bank (4).
Recently, the campaign Our lands, our business, launched by the Oakland Institute and followed by numerous organizations around the world (5), has pointed out the nefarious role of the new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture program on the right to food of populations . Based on the "Doing Business" model, it is intended to provide foreign investors with an index of the degree of openness of the agricultural sector in various countries.
This index will allow, in particular, to know the level of ease with which an investor can acquire land in the country, thus favoring the relaxation of administrative measures and, as a direct consequence, land grabbing. Some pilot studies aimed at establishing this index have already been carried out in a dozen countries, including Morocco. Let us imagine, then, that the studies on which these indices are based could be mutilated as in the case of the data collected by the research office in the "Ruralstruc" program.
The consequences could be considerable. The World Bank Concept of Partnership Finally, the place of Southern researchers in World Bank-produced research is equally debatable in light of the institution's reactions to the objections of Najib Akesbi and his colleagues.
Beyond the legal issues of intellectual property, it is the concept of association that the World Bank defends that is in question.
When researchers from the North and South collaborate, this issue shows that ultimately only the opinion of the former seems to be taken into account. Irony of history or sheer hypocrisy, the CIRAD website, which coordinated the project, recalls that the research work within the framework of "Ruralstruc" was carried out with an "innovative approach" of "association with seven national teams that collects , analyzes the data and participates in the debate on the results of the program in their country and internationally ”(6).