Breaking pineapples together
By Gina Mission

n July 21, members of civil society organizations (CSOs) and the World Bank (WB) sealed a vow they made to each other, not with a kiss, however, but with the breaking and eating of pineapples.

___The vow was one of cooperation to help reduce poverty and fight corruption in the country, and the ritual marked the formal start of the fifth Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) series of feedback-consultation workshops of the World Bank and civil society. Four more workshops, to be conducted in La Union, Cebu, Zamboanga, and Davao are scheduled within the next two months.

___CAS refers to the loan packages of the WB to the Philippines, based on an assessment of priorities in the country. It indicates the level and composition of assistance to be provided based on the country’s portfolio and economic performance. It determines all of the WB’s business plans and lending operations here.

___With the Asian financial crisis, and the economic slump the country has experienced, the 1999-2002 CAS seeks to restore "stronger economic growth with more poverty reduction and greater equity," which supports the administration’s Medium Term Development Plan and its centerpiece program of poverty alleviation.

___CAS activities include a combination of lending, studies, policy advice, and technical assistance to the government. CAS also envisions helping people "help themselves" and their environment by providing resources, sharing knowledge, building capacity, and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors.

___The 1999-2002 CAS involves between $1.0 B to $1.5 B base-case lending program. This will be used to finance the activities identified in the present CAS, which include the provision of safe water and sanitation services at local government levels, national road improvement; rural development in 24 provinces of Mindanao, natural resource management and rural electrification.

___Engaging civil society in the CAS, admitted Vinay Bhargava, Head of the WB Philippine Resident Mission, is in line with the Bank’s current reforms of transparency. The earlier CASs only considered inputs and consultations within the WB group, with the national and local government officials, and with other donors.

___But with civil society’s consultation feedback, the CAS, according to WB staff, set new directions toward a "longer-term view, structural reforms, a partnership approach, increased transparency, and evaluation." All these approaches, admitted the WB staff, are obviously not integrated in the earlier CAS, when the ideal of civil society participation had not been conceived.

___By seeking the opinions of civil society through these feedback consultations, the WB hopes to improve the quality of the CAS as well as help ensure that concerns of the poor and vulnerable groups are reflected. It also hopes to further its objectives of enhancing stakeholder participation in lending and non-lending services, and enhance government’s efforts in increasing transparency, public understanding and citizen involvement in decision making.

___Four consultation workshops with CSOs have already been conducted, with representatives from NGOs, people’s organizations, trade unions, church-based organizations, the academe and regionally-based business groups. CO-TRAIN summarized all workshop proceedings and results.

___One of the most important accomplishments of civil society in those feedback workshops was the making public of the CAS document. "We are all involved as we are the ones who will be paying these loans. It is necessary that everybody knows how much the government is borrowing, and from whom," says Dinky Soliman, Co-Train Executive Director.

___Among the major issues and recommendations of civil society in the CAS are:

___In response, the different programs under CAS have been redesigned to accommodate CSO recommendations. Through its different programs, the CAS will work to help address crisis effects and promote economic recovery. It will also work the enhancement of human development and social services for the poor, fight graft and corruption, promote sustainable urban and rural development, infrastructure development in the countryside, and private sector expansion.

___How successful this CSO-WB relationship is going to be depends on the vigilance of the stakeholders. "For monitoring purposes, it is important that we know where all the money are going, and whether the projects are implemented or not, or if these projects have improved the lives of the beneficiaries," Soliman added.

___As one workshop participant remarked: "In Indonesia the government spends $8 to spend $1. With our CAS, we hope to reverse the figures, to spend $1 for every $8 the government will spend."

___Both parties, however, recognized the ambitiousness of such remark. "Just like these pineapples," said Soliman. "On the outside, it’s rough, and its rind looks like it could hurt us. But once you open it and take a bite, you’ll know it is sweet, it is succulent," she explained, holding up her slice, prompting cheers from the audience. "And most importantly, it prevents cancer," she added.

___Early on during the whole day workshop, participants asked the Bank, in no sweet terms, how it intends to help alleviate poverty situation in the country, admitting their discouragement with the things that are happening in government. But at the end of the day, they agreed that a pineapple a day might help keep corruption away.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.07.22