Governance Expert, Nepal
Date: 26 July 2011
Venue: Nirvana Country Club, Dharan, East Nepal
Audience: 50+ CSO representatives from eight districts in East Nepal
Program: Orientation Program on Social Accountability
Host Organization: Pro-Public.
Funding Agency: The World Bank, Program on Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), as a part of $3million project.
As I was making my presentation, focusing on why Nepal needs a program on social accountability, the WB Consultant (Program Coordinator for PRAN), using both of his hands to signalled “T” to me. Realizing possible time overruns, then and there, I concluded my presentation. I had not even come out of the seminar hall, right at the exit door; the Consultant posed me two startling questions: (1) Why I did not inform the bank, in advance, the contents of my presentation? (2) Why my presentation slides were not prepared in Nepali? What is more significant than these two questions considering the way he posed these questions? Clearly he was intending to insult me in front of the audience. Let me delve into these two questions before getting into detail on what unfolded afterwards. First, he had no moral authority or superiority to question on my presentation. There is no specific, moral obligation for me to report my presentation in advance to the Bank. No one has informed me of this corrupt practice within the WB. Such advance screening of presentation cannot happen even in communist regime like North Korea. Having requested me to lecture on a specific subject matter, it is at my discretion to what to speak and what not. The said consultant was going against my freedom of expression. The ultimate yardstick to measure my performance is the reactions of the Nepali audience, not the dollar earning foreign consultant. I am singularly accountable to my audience, not to this consultant. In the case involved, the WB is just a funding agency, the hosting agency is Pro-Public. If there is any objections or reservations related to my presentation it is up to the Pro-Public, not to the WB to intervene. This English speaking white consultant has no authority to impose conditions on local consultants. This must be a shameful matter to the WB. The second question was redundant, some slides, mostly tables, were in English, but the whole presentation was in Nepali. How can a non-Nepali speaking foreigner intervene on Nepali presentation? Arguments and counter-arguments ensued for a while between him and me. My immediate duty was to inform my consulting firm about the unpleasant incident and moreover, the misbehaviour from a foreign consultant in Nepal.
Next day, I flew back to Kathmandu, called an emergency meeting, inform my colleagues of the sad incident. My suggestion to my team mates was clear and simple: listen to the Consultant and other eye-witness to the incident and make judgement as to who is right and who is wrong. In the same evening, using the World Bank on-line complaint registration system, I lodged two specific complaints against him. One, corruption within the World Bank in awarding the contract to the Nepali firm. This is an interesting story. Need an elaboration to the readers. Two, misbehaviour of the consultant during my presentation. At first, the responsible person within the WB was very positive about my complaint and asked me to be confidential and requested further information related to my complaint. I furnished more information. In order to avoid conflict of interest situation, I also withdrew my involvement from the project.
Let me write on the corruption issue. On 1 April 2011, the World Bank informed my consulting firm, which made a competitive bid for the Monitoring and Evaluation Component of PRAN, that we were selected for the job. No sooner we organized our preparatory meeting, exactly after a week, we were informed by the WB that the actual awarding of the contract has gone to some other firm, not ours. They gave an excuse that it was due to posting error. We had no other option other than to accept their decision. Nearly after two weeks, the said Consultant emailed me indicating that we were awarded the contract. Amazing! Can such thing happen within the World Bank? One moment they say you got the contract, next moment, they say no, you did not and again in the other moment they reverse their position! More interestingly, this is a cost and quality based global competitive bidding system of the Word Bank. Let me not remind the Bank that corruption does not necessarily involve the change of money, it also includes hanky-panky deals. This is clearly a hanky-panky deal.
After one month, the World Bank Office in Washington informed me that they too investigated the case and reported me of “an inadvertent mistake” in awarding the contract and not corruption as I had complained. What that inadvertent mistake was never explained neither the consequences of that inadvertent mistake. This is what happens with the World Bank bidding system. And this happened with a project designed promote social accountability in Nepal. When I insisted on my second complaint related to misbehaviour if the Consultant during my presentation, the Bank staff simply referred that the issue was looked after by the Office of Business Ethics. Having content with the inadvertent mistake response, I never expected any response from the World Bank. But amazingly, after four months, I got an email from the Bank, saying that my second complaint has been closed as the Consultant has already written an apology letter to me. Yes, he did email a letter to me. Though the letter contained the word apology, it was definitely not an apology letter. He was justifying his behaviour. What is significant here is that the apology letter was written after me lodging the complaint, not before. I have counter challenged the bank official: how a letter written afterward can be used as an evidence to nullify a complaint lodged before? To date, I have not received any information from the Bank; neither had I expected any in future. The moral of the story is this: beggars are not choosers; they are made to be losers. This white English speaking consultant is still enjoying his position and perks within the Bank. I see him shamelessly preaching lessons on social accountability to Nepali civil society members and organizations. When will well be unshackled by this colonial mentality?