India, Brazil, and other major developing countries are urging the World Bank to curtail the powers of its Inspection Panels. The Panels are intended to deal with protests from those who say bank-financed dams and infrastructure harm them or the environment.

The borrowing nations’ complaint is that the panels often intrude into their domestic affairs by extending investigations beyond World Bank projects to consider the practices of the host government.

The Bank is currently seeking public comment on operating procedures for the group, known simply as the Inspection Panel. Bank officials intend to discuss the matter with representatives of environmental, human rights and other non-governmental organisations to see if they can agree on how the Panel should operate.

Meanwhile, treasury officials in the US, one of the main lenders of funds to the World Bank, have expressed strong support in general for the employment of an independent, effective Inspection Panel. The Panel operations are also strongly supported by the Bank President, James Wolfensohn.

The Inspection Panel was established in 1993 at the insistence of non-governmental organisations and the US Congress. Of the 12 complaints it has looked into since 1994, it has recommended full-scale investigations in five cases. But because of disagreements, bank directors have rejected or limited all five probes.