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Will It Be Business As Usual At The World Bank? by Delphine Djiraibe and Korinna Horta, Los Angeles Times, 5/9/00

House Legislation

The World Bank Doth Protest

December 17, 2000

A World Bank staff member complains that "the Chadian government did not provide us with relevant information until after the fact," referring to the revelation that Chadian President Idriss Deby spent $4.5 million of a World Bank loan package for a new oil pipeline on weapons [news story, Dec. 5].

This is feigned ignorance. For years, citizens' groups, human rights advocates and environmental activists in Chad and around the world have been warning the bank that its loan package (worth more than $300 million) for this pipeline was likely to exacerbate the country's civil war and worsen an already-dismal human rights and corruption record. Even when presented with a Harvard Law School study that said Chad's government was unlikely to invest oil revenues in programs to help the poor, the World Bank insisted Chad could be trusted.

In the days leading up to the bank's vote on whether to approve the project, reports from Chad indicated that military and administrative officials loyal to Mr. Deby went into villages in the oil-producing region and threatened to kill anyone who opposed the oil extraction.

That the World Bank now expresses shock and dismay is hypocrisy. Oil drilling benefits big oil companies and corrupt officials but rarely the poor. It is time for the World Bank to wake up and stop wasting taxpayer money on such ill-conceived projects.

    U.S. Representative (D-Ga.)

    November 10, 1999

    The Honorable James D. Wolfensohn
    President of the World Bank Group
    1818 H Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20433

Dear Mr. Wolfensohn:

I am writing in reference to follow up to my letter dated September 16, 1999, that I have not received a response. I remain deeply concerned by the plan under consideration by the World Bank to divert limited aid resources to help finance the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline.

The World Bank is currently considering the use of limited aid resources to subsidize a pipeline project traversing the countries of Chad and Cameroon after several multinational oil companies operating in Africa have requested $365 million in financing. Despite my recent meetings with both the Chadian government and Amnesty International, I remain disturbed by several controversial issues such as human rights abuses and environmental damage should the pipeline be implemented. I am particularly worried about the indisputable fact that the consortium agreement supersedes national laws of both Chad and Cameroon.

This project is closely associated with human rights abuses in both of these countries. In Chad, two massacres resulting in 180 deaths have been reported in the oil field region. Assurances that Chadian armed forces mistakenly believed hundreds of innocent civilians were rebels is simply not plausible. Torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention are common. The repressive climate of fear and intimidation is exemplified by the recent arrest and imprisonment of a member of Chad's parliament for questioning the use of potential oil revenues; restrictions on the freedom of the press; abuse of environmentalists and the suspension of the activities of human rights organizations. The government of Chad has demonstrated little commitment to helping the poor, therefore there is little potential that the project will reduce poverty among the local population.

In order for the US. to support World Bank projects there has to be full transparency in regards to military spending. The government of Chad is spending some 37% of its GNP on the military sector. It is questionable whether this project is eligible for US support given the constraints on US support for projects in countries where there are large military expenditures.

In Cameroon, the proposed pipeline would likewise play into the hands of a government marred by corruption and human rights violations. On November 5, 1999, Cameroon was ranked the most corrupt nation in the world by an independent NGO, Transparency International. This report alone should raise serious reservations in any funding project for Cameroon.

Therefore, I respectfully request the World Bank to investigate the human rights abuses associated with the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, and take measures to guarantee the safety of civilians living in the region. The World Bank needs to respect the requests of civil society groups in Chad and Cameroon and place a moratorium on this project until there is a legal framework in place to protect the rights of local people and prevent environmental damage. Currently, there are no adequate guarantees for safety. In the oil consortium's Environmental Impact Assessment consisting of nineteen volumes, there is not a site specific oil spill response plan. Furthermore, although the pipeline has been re-routed to avoid environmentally sensitive areas, Cameroon has failed to protect many of the local forests, including a world heritage site, despite receiving international funds to address this issue.

To guarantee that the local populations benefit from the project, the World Bank should establish an effective monitoring system to track revenue spending and help build accountable government institutions through the funding of judicial, legal and tax reforms. As long as such institutions are not in place, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline will do little good; rather, it will divert World Bank money from other needed health, education and poverty alleviation projects. If this pipeline receives World Bank funding, revenues which benefit other sectors such as education and health are not expected for 3-5 years at the earliest. It seems as if the World Bank's commitment to poverty alleviation in Chad is clouded by potential oil revenues.

I hope that you will have occasion to re-evaluate this project, and I am eager to hear how you plan to address the concerns expressed in this letter. Thank you very much for your consideration.

    Cynthia McKinney
    Member of Congress
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