Multilateral Development Banks’ Shifting Agenda Shortcuts

As the G-20 prepares to receive the findings of a high-level appointed group on the multilateral development banks’ future, think tanks worldwide have begun to submit recommendations, with a February paper compiled jointly by Brookings and CGD in the US and ODI in Europe. The authors argue that the system must deliver more to pursue the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in terms of governance and “operational and policy coherence.” Common data, project design and technical assistance platforms are overdue, and approaches should be adapted in the categories of fragile, high-debt and upper middle-income countries. Global public goods can also be targeted in combination on issues like climate, health, migration and financial crisis. Capital and leverage can be scaled up to mobilize trillions of dollars for infrastructure and other needs, and portfolios can be turned over to the private sector at return and management thresholds. Shareholder oversight should not be limited to individual institutions and incorporate competing and complementary missions through UN bodies. The next two decades will see history’s biggest urban expansion and landmark developing world demographic transition, especially with Africa’s youth bulge. The banks’ “value proposition” is to stay a trusted partner able to offer capacity and reform advice, long-term funding, and global and regional expertise and help when economic instability spreads. Pure financial transfers barely register in middle-income countries where they are less than 1% of private flows, but “development solutions” remain in demand. The World Bank’s net allocation is now lower than regional counterparts, and clients seek input on cross-cutting themes like connectivity, small business formation and inclusion and inequality. Donor harmonization was pledged in the Rome Declaration 15 years ago but application has lagged, with the new Asian Infrastructure Bank trying to avoid uncorrected overlapping and onerous safeguards. Collaboration on public-private partnerships, evaluation and procurement has increased but core agendas are still at odds and often redundant, according to the filing. Shared country and sector strategies, research and impact measurement are viable, and will facilitate the so-called cascade effect for commercial finance as little used instruments like guarantees are more widely deployed. Regular asset sale programs should in turn be scheduled to release original capital and prevent constant shareholder calls.

In fragile states reconstruction should not be delayed over constitutional and electoral formulas and be supported mainly by grants. Administrative procedures should be more flexible and bank staff should handle the load instead in “low capacity” places. Debt sustainability risk is high or moderate in 30 chiefly African countries that got official relief and now tap external bond markets, and management complexity must take into account rollovers, contingent liabilities and other aspects where MDBs can offer global lessons and tracking mechanisms.  Advanced emerging markets still may seek public finance at the sub-national level and policy dialogue and peer convening power where private debt and equity sources do not engage. The Bretton Woods lenders have not been thoroughly reviewed for 75 years and lack a “periodic ambition and mandate inventory.” The report calculates that their $40 billion base can be multiplied the next decade for $2 trillion in resources under far less conservative loan/asset ratios. Individual banks have their own comparative advantages such as the EBRD in energy and AfDB on water and topical rather than geographic focus can define future relationships from high-level summits to daily communications as a tangible near-term goal, it concludes.

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