One size for all: A study of IMF and World Bank Poverty Reduction Strategies

September 2005

In recent years the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have adopted new ways of working and new rhetoric on ‘country ownership’ and ‘participation’. At the start of the 1980s, the two institutions began to make their loans and aid conditional on implementing ‘structural adjustment’ policies. The set of structural adjustment conditions, commonly referred to as the ‘Washington Consensus’, have been widely criticised both for undermining national political processes and causing widespread social and economic damage.

In response to such criticism, the Bank and Fund have adopted new ways of working and new rhetoric on ‘country ownership’ of policies and ‘participation’ in the development process. The centrepieces of this supposedly new approach are Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs); medium-term development plans which poor countries are now required to produce in order to receive aid, loans and debt relief. PRSPs are meant to be developed within a country through a participative process, thereby meaning that the policies in the PRSP are ‘owned’ by the country.

This briefing investigates how far PRSPs have really departed from structural adjustment policies pushed by the Bank and Fund, and whether there are grounds to claim that PRSPs now allow true country ownership, and so a diverse range of policies across countries. WDM has analysed the content of the 50 PRSPs completed to date, and has found that the policies contained within them are remarkably similar both to each other, and to the policies of previous structural adjustment programmes.

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