Rule of Law Initiatives at the World Bank

I recently came across a tweet from Paul Scott Prettitore about some Rule of Law work that he was doing in the Middle East. While the work that he was doing was not a surprise, that he was doing it on behalf of the World Bank. As I wasn’t even aware that the World Bank was involved in Rule of Law initiatives, I contacted Paul and he was gracious enough to take the time to discuss what he does.

Progressive Lawyer: A lot of people may be surprised that the World Bank is involved in Rule of Law initiatives when their mission is the reduction of poverty. Can you briefly describe what kind of work they do in this area and how they see this as part of their mission?

Paul Scott Prettitore: Yes, I was surprised myself when I was first approached by a friend at the Bank to help with one of his programs. The Bank has viewed rule of law through a number of lenses, including the links between the rule of law and economic growth. It has also acknowledged the importance of the rule of law in terms of quality of institutions, and its role in promoting good governance, namely accountability, transparency and delivery of public services. Building the capacity of justice sector institutions has been a core component of broader work on public sector reform. More recently there has been additional focus on the rule of law and the promotion of intangible wealth, such as social capital and human development. For me, the rule of law and associated work building justice sector institutions is very much a cross-cutting issue within the Bank, touching upon many of its major areas of activities, including poverty, social protection, private sector development and social development.

PL: What is the JUSTPAL network?

PSP: My colleague Amit Mukherjee is leading this work. It is primarily a community of practice to share experience and knowledge for practitioners in the rule of law in the Bank’s Europe and Central Asia region. We are now trying to link this work with the Middle East and North Africa region as well.

PL: What is your background and how did you become employed by the World Bank?

Paul Scott Prettitore
Paul Scott Prettitore

PSP: I came to the Bank mostly by accident, in that it was never planned. I never considered it as a place to work, thinking it was only for economists. And given my background I was always a bit suspicious of the Bank. I started my career in Bosnia in 1998, working on human rights, refugee and land restitution issues at the Office of the High Representative and then OSCE. My area of focus in law school was human rights and humanitarian law. My big plan was to find a job at ICRC and write about violations of humanitarian law. I very much enjoyed the human rights and refugee work in Bosnia. One of the more interesting aspects of the work was meeting often with refugees and victims of human rights abuses. While they were generally interested in exercising their rights, there was also a strong interest in economic and social development. People wanted their rights, but they also wanted good opportunities for themselves, and better ones for their children, in terms of employment, education and healthcare. This sparked my interest in broader development issues.

While working in Bosnia a friend who worked at the Bank in its Jerusalem office asked if I could provide an analysis of land expropriation procedures in the West Bank for a study he was conducting. This led to requests for some analysis of legal frameworks and evaluation of a judicial reform program with the Palestinian Authority. After several trips to Jerusalem, the Bank’s Country Director asked if I would be interested in moving there and taking a longer-term position with them. As he put it ‘usually the Bank lawyers are all in Washington, but it has been useful having you here’. I never planned to stay at the Bank longer-term, thinking opportunities for lawyers to work on substantive issues would be limited. But I’ve always managed to have interesting work. It can be frustrating at times to be in an institution where rule of law and justice sector reform are not the utmost priorities. However, the Bank is a large organization with much expertise and huge resources, and if you can direct just a bit of them to issues you think important the impact can be very rewarding.

PL: What areas of justice work are you involved in and where?

PSP: For me, the links between justice and poverty have always been particularly interesting, and I have tried to focus most of my work on helping justice sector institutions and civil society organizations to better serve the poor. But I have worked on a number of other issues as well, including judicial modernization, freedom of information, conflict of interest, transitional justice, impact evaluations, gender equality, broader anti-corruption and land administration. One of the nicer parts of employment with the Bank is that there is so much going on in different fields – it is an incredible place to learn if you can find the time. Since joining the Bank I’ve been in the Middle East and North Africa region. I spent 2.5 years based in Jerusalem, and 3.5 years based in Beirut where I worked on Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. I’ve also done some work in Egypt and Kuwait. And now I work quite a bit in Morocco as well. More recently I have started working in Colombia on transitional justice issues, which has been an interesting change.

PL: You describe the focus of your Rule of Law work as the following:

    • Identification of justice gaps for the poor and women in middle income countries
    • Developing legal aid services, primarily through civil society organizations
    • Researching legal equality, agency and access to justice issues for women (Jordan and Morocco, as part of the Bank’s Country Gender Assessments)
    • Judicial modernization (Morocco)

Can you describe a bit more each one of these initiatives?

PSP: The Bank is involved in justice sector reform and the rule of law in a number of different ways, which utilize the Banks tools for engagement – loans, grants, technical assistance and research. For example, the judicial modernization project in Morocco is a loan to the government. The borrow money from the Bank to finance the project, and the Bank supervises and tries to provide technical advice when needed. The work supporting justice sector and poverty programs, particularly legal aid, is funding by grants. The Bank will often make technical advice available to governments based on knowledge of the staff. Each of these tools have pluses and minuses.

I enjoy research, so I’ve been focusing on researching the intersections of legal problems, justice sector services and poverty. Most of this research has been in Jordan, because we have greater access to data there. Generally access to data in the MNA region is problematic. We also support a large program, funded by grants, to build capacity of civil society to provide legal aid services. So we got access to their data as well. Information related to the needs of the poor in terms of justice services is particularly lacking. A number of governments are interested in better understanding these issues. Without a clearer understanding of these issues programs are often more ineffective, and we’ve done some research in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Iraq. I focus much of the research on middle income countries because I am more interested in gaps in services, which adversely affect the poor, as opposed to situations where there are service only on paper.

I’ve also done some writing as part of the Bank’s Country Gender Assessments, which are a routine analysis of gender issues in countries in which we work. I usually work with an economist who writes on economic participation, particularly labor force participation, while I write sections on legal equality, agency and access to justice. I think one of the Bank’s strengths is the analytical work. These assessments are interesting in the MNA region, and legal inequality is still a major issue in some countries.

The judicial modernization program in Morocco is aimed at improving capacity and service delivery improvement in the Ministry of Justice and Liberties and the courts. Priorities for reform are supposed to be elaborated through a consultative process in pilot courts, whereby groups of stakeholders including lawyers, civil society organizations, the private sector, and local communities should provide feedback on the quality of court services they consider most important. This is somewhat novel in the MNA region, where judiciaries tend not to engage widely with the public and reforms are often more top-down.

PL: Is legal work such as this a large part of the mandate of the World Bank?

PSP: It depends on how you measure the work. But I would not say it is a large part of the Bank’s overall work compared with other areas, such as infrastructure, healthcare and education, or private sector development. But there are legal aspects of work in all of these sectors, which we try to capitalize on. There are a relatively small number of staff working on it more-or-less full-time, but we tend to be in high demand. Plus when you think of the Bank’s size, particularly in terms of resources, if you can access just a piece of the pie you can accomplish quite a lot, especially in providing technical assistance to counterparts.

PL: You work in the Middle East and North African region, and area that is experiencing unprecedented change. How is this affecting your work, especially in a country like Syria?

PSP: It has been a professional and personal rollercoaster, the latter because I lived in the region for more than six years. The Arab Spring breathed new life into rule of law work not least because it demonstrated that economic growth alone did not bring political stability or social progress. Many of us thought we’d have greater opportunities for progress in rule of law reforms. But looking at the region now, it is difficult to not be a bit depressed. I was in Damascus the day demonstrations began in the south of the country. I told my Syrian colleague that proper democracy might come to Syria – he said the regime would destroy the country first, a comment I found a bit melodramatic at the time. How wrong I was. It’s been truly painful to watch events in Syria in particular, having spent time there with some great people. And he conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya have definitely had some negative effect on reforms in neighboring countries. On the more positive side, Tunisia seems to be pushing ahead. And the Moroccan government has introduced some interesting reforms, though implementation remains rather patchy. That said I hope that in terms of rule of law and human rights a door has at least been opened that cannot be so easily slammed and kept shut in the longer-term.

World Bank Building, Washington DC
World Bank Building, Washington DC

PL: The perception in some quarters is that the World Bank policies sometimes work against the best interests of people like indigenous groups. How do you see the perception of the World Bank in the field with the people you work with?

PSP: Coming from a human rights background, I completely understand the criticism. Indigenous persons’ rights, particularly over land, highlight one of the most difficult areas to address – the clash between individual or collective rights and the broader public interest. The Bank is a massive institution, and development is not an exact science, so of course mistakes are made. I think the Bank is trying to be a bit more critical in evaluating itself, which is no easy task in a big bureaucracy. You have to keep in mind the Bank’s structure. It is an institution of its members, which are governments. While our ‘clients’ are the poor, are official counterparts are governments, usually a ministry of finance or a ministry of planning. The structure works well if these counterparts have the best interests of the poor in mind in designing and implementing reforms. But sadly this may not always be the case. The Bank is also in sometimes difficult situation. When it pushes reforms that governments may not want, for example gender equality or other human rights, it is accused of bullying or pushing its own agenda. If it avoids these issues, it is accused of coddling illegitimate regimes. Not to paint the Bank as helpless, but the reality of what it can and cannot do is much more nuanced than people think. I wish there would be stronger safeguard policies linked more closely to human rights, for example. But many countries feel such an approach is political, and according to the Bank’s mandate we are not allowed to be involved in politics. One of the more exciting changes to the way the Bank works is direct cooperation with civil society organizations (CSOs). Much of my work on the justice sector and poverty is conducted with CSOs as implementing partners.

PL: Does the World Bank over internships for law students?

PSP: There is no formal internship program. There are two programs that law graduates can take advantage of – the Junior Professional Associate program and the Young Professionals program. Internships can be arranged on an ad hoc basis, but this usually requires know someone on staff. (More information can be found on the World Bank’s Jobs page)

PL: For a law student or young lawyer looking to work with the World Bank, what kind of advice would you give them?

PSP: I would say to develop some technical expertise. The Bank tends to value technical expertise – you need something to offer in terms of skills. Understanding how the law plays a role in other sectors is also incredibly useful. Programs focused purely on the rule of law will likely always be a relatively smaller part of the Bank’s work, so understanding how you can contribute through other sectors, such as social development, private sector development, gender or poverty, opens a lot more doors. If been surprised how open many colleagues, particularly economists, are open to including rule of law issues. And persistence is a must – very little happens quickly.

PL: Thank you so much for your time. For more information on the World Bank and their Law and Development program please click here.

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