Last night saw the main opportunity for civil society groups to quiz Bob Zoellick, President of the World Bank, and Dominic Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the IMF, at the annual Town Hall meeting.
Zoellick concentrated his remarks on the "dangerous moment" we are now in, the biggest threat now being complacency. He also talked about the food crisis, and commented that the G8 deal for $20 billion for food security was still only "words on paper". He mentioned the $11.6 billion funding gap the Bank has identified, which is for just 43 countries to cover their core social spending commitments, and said that, in contrast to the Fund, the Bank still needs to raise a lot of money to meet the needs of poor countries.
Strauss-Kahn said that, while we were at the start of recovery, there would be a long delay before employment stopped rising. And it was too early to implement so-called 'exit strategies'. He talked about the changing IMF role, with a new facility for low income countries (still loans with strings attached though) and reform to the quota in the Fund's governance (fairly meagre changes in reality). The IMF, he said, needs to promote stability as well as prosperity (if only they'd been doing that 2 years ago!).
Chaired by Archbishop Ndungane of South Africa, questions from civil society representatives ranged from governance and transparency to specific policies on agriculture, gender and disability. But they generally failed to critique the institutions' central role in this crisis, and only one question targetted the Fund, which is worrying given that organisation's massive renaissance in the past year.
Such a set-piece event was never going to be very critical or alternative in its perspective - hopefully some of the alternative forms and meetings being planned in the margins of this conference will provide more inspiration in the coming days.