Letter to the Honourable Ralph Goodale RE: Cancellation of the NGO/PRESS Pass for the Fall Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - August 10, 2004

PDF Version of letter available here

August 10, 2004

The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Finance
140 O'Connor Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G5
Fax: 995-5176

RE: Cancellation of the NGO/PRESS Pass for the Fall Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund

Dear Minister Goodale,

We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the decision to exclude civil society from participation in the Fall meetings of the 60th anniversary of the Bretton Woods institution by canceling the NGO/PRESS pass. By canceling the NGO/PRESS pass the Bretton Woods institutions are restriction of the access of legitimate alternative voices and denying the hard fought rights of citizens in a democracy to an open and free press.

Many NGOs produce news articles and feature length stories for their constituents, which is an essential component of NGO accountability. The NGO/PRESS pass has in the past allowed these NGO reporters an opportunity to ask questions directly World Bank and IMF officials, an opportunity they would not have to the same degree without the pass. In addition, it is worth noting that many of the publications NGO reporters work for provide indepth reportage that is not often found in larger media. Articles written by NGO journalists also tend to provide a depth of detail and scope that helps readers to better understand the complicated processes and discussions underway at the Bretton Woods Institutions. As recent studies have demonstrated, citizens from around the world are increasingly looking to alternative media and voices such as those of NGO reporters to gain an understanding of the world they live in.

By citing "security concerns" as one of the reasons for this decision, the World Bank and IMF are making a dangerous and erroneous link between the legitimate concerns and interests of civil society media and the threat of terrorist attacks. The Halifax Initiative Coalition has participated in Bretton Woods annual meetings since 1995, utilizing the opportunity to produce print and voice commentary that raises the awareness of Canadians of the activities of the World Bank and IMF. We have used the access afforded us to produce materials for the alternative and mainstream media that would not otherwise have been made available to the Canadian public.

In recent years much progress has been made on the part of the World Bank and IMF to begin to engage in dialogue with civil society, an effort encouraged, supported and led by the Government of Canada. The Bank and the Fund have benefited by the presence of civil society organizations in the pressroom through our efforts to raise the profile of development issues and alternative perspectives.

Members of the press and the institutions have welcomed the opportunity to liaise directly with NGO personnel to enhance their analysis of the issues. Excluding NGOs from the pressroom disallows direct participation in press conferences, effectively undermining our ability to interact with press conference participants and engage with press colleagues in the mainstream media. Any decision to restrict access to legitimate voices undermines our combined efforts to enhance the openness, transparency and accountability of the Bretton Woods institutions.

Canada has long recognized the benefits of a diversity of perspectives and prides itself on its efforts to contribute to dialogue between Canadians on international affairs. This dialogue will not be supported by restricting the access of civil society groups to members of the media or Bretton Woods officials. Canadians believe in the importance of a free and open press for deepening democracy and improving governance. Progress towards these important goals must not be reversed by the exclusion of the public voice in public institutions.

As the challenges and opportunities of globalization increase, it is imperative that global institutions strive to increase their connectedness to the world outside their doors. The sixtieth anniversary should not be remembered as a year when the Bretton Woods institutions retreated into further secrecy and isolation.

We call on the Government of Canada to insist that the Bretton Woods institutions reverse their decision to cancel the NGO/PRESS pass.

We look forward to your response to our concerns and would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely,

John Mihevc
Chair of the Halifax Initiative Coalition

Halifax Initiative Coalition members:

Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Social Affairs Office
Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Canadian Labour Congress
CoDevelopment Canada
Friends of the Earth Canada
Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
MiningWatch Canada
North-South Institute
Oxfam Canada
Rights & Democracy
Social Justice Committee of Montreal
Toronto Environmental Alliance
World Interaction Mondiale

The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada
Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Hon. Aileen Carroll, Minister of International Cooperation
Mr. Marcel Massé, Executive Director for Canada, World Bank
Mr. Ian Bennett, Executive Director for Canada