Thirty Years of Accountability in International Development: Insights from the General Counsel of the World Bank Group

Christopher H. Stephens


The creation of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel in 1993 was a groundbreaking moment in international development. The first accountability mechanism of its kind, it established a precedent for accountability in development that has been followed by multiple development banks and international financial institutions over the last decades. Today, the credibility of international financial institutions rests significantly on the mechanisms that they put in place to check their own behavior and the avenues they offer for affected communities and individuals to raise questions of harm related to the projects financed by these institutions. This essay is a reflection on the Panel’s thirty years of operation, its achievements, and lessons learned. It offers a brief account of the Panel’s role in shaping accountability in the work of the World Bank. Ultimately, this essay argues that independent accountability mechanisms remain a vital cornerstone of effective, transparent, and responsible sustainable development.