July 5, 2000: In what could be a major showdown between World Bank's political and ethical agendas, the fate of a controversial World Bank project in the Tibetan province of Amdo (Qinghai), will be decided tomorrow July 6 during a meeting of the Board of Executive Directors in Washington. The meeting follows the leaked release of scathing report of the project produced by the World Bank's own "Inspection Panel".
The Inspection Panel investigation report, leaked to journalists last week, reveals what it called "a climate of fear" in the project area. The panel, comprised of three development experts and headed by Canadian Tim MacNeill, found that it was virtually impossible to conduct reliable consultation in the region and that local people had little understanding of the implications of resettlement, a prime component of the project. The Panel also accused the Bank of applying a double standard in China, requiring less rigourous application of standards and safeguards.
"The Tibetan people do not object to development", said Thubten Samdup, President of the Canada Tibet Committee. "But we do object to cultural genocide in the name of development. Tibetan voices are silenced by the 'climate of fear' in which they live and that's why we are fighting this project."
While Tibetans are calling for cancellation of the project, World Bank President James Wolfensohn and Bank management are expected to recommend that the Executive Directors accept a "fix" to the project's shortcomings. In a letter addressed to the Directors, Wolfensohn accused those who advocate against the project of being politically motivated and impossible to satisfy.
But Canadian activists accuse the Bank of playing politics when it violates its own policies in order to please its biggest client - China. The Canadian campaign to stop the project has been led by the Halifax Initiative, a coalition of non-governmental organizations which advocates reform of the World Bank. The coalition is calling for Canada to take a principled position when its Executive Director, Ms. Terri O'Leary, presents Canada's position to the Directors on Thursday.
"It's time that Canada stand up and provide leadership on the question of Bank policy", said Pam Foster, Coordinator of the Halifax Initiative. "Either we believe in applying objective criteria or we don't. We cannot have it both ways. This project clearly violates policy and cannot be fixed. It must be cancelled."
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IN WASHINGTON: Thubten Samdup, Canada Tibet Committee: 202-235-0205 IN OTTAWA: Pam Foster, Halifax Initiative, 613-789-4447