Transparency at the World Bank and IMF

Notes of an open Global Transparency Initiative meeting, Washington October 9, 2008

9 October 2008 | Minutes

Bruce Jenkins, Bank Information Center: World Bank’s current practice and disclosure policy

Based on the BIC paper: Assessing World Bank Openness: A Transparency Scorecard

The first World Bank disclosure policy was developed 15 years ago, at a time when it was difficult to get any information at all out of the institution. World Bank has changed a lot since then, but is still lagging behind its peers.

WB policy says policy is based on disclosure, but actually there’s a limited list of documents, anything not on the list is not disclosed (so there’s a presumption of non-disclosure.) Advocating for Bank to invert its policy; define a narrow band of documents not disclosed, based on clear reasons that could be tested (limited exceptions).

Current policy has some uncontroversial exceptions such as personal information, lawyer-client privileges etc, but also broad areas including: Board proceedings; Internal memoranda; Ad hoc basis can withhold information detrimental to the Bank, a member country, or staff.

Problems around principle of automatic disclosure: Almost no information released during the implementation phase of World Bank projects; All we get is one short paragraph in a summary of status of project once a year; Major gaps in the procurement process, little information on contracts; No release of project audits.

Access to decision-making.

We’re not advocating transparency for its own sake – but so that those affected by Bank operations have access to information, and to increase democratic accountability.

  • Minutes of board meetings only released from 2005; highly skeletal, very little information
  • Project appraisal documents – the key document – is not available before approval
  • Country Assistance Strategies – hard to get hold of drafts in some countries
  • Lack of iterative drafts in policy development
  • Translations framework exists, but pushes almost all obligations onto the borrow – Bank translations limited to over-arching documents; major gaps at project level

Bank has developed over 100 public information centres; these could be used to promote access to information to civil society and others. At present they are largely serving business interests – to learn about contracts etc.

Disclosure policy review

Understand that a draft issues paper has been developed, will shortly be circulated to board. There will be a consultation process: contact the GTI for more information about participating in this.


ADB has a list of documents it will release, and others it won’t. Many of the requests come from business. Numbers of requests are growing. There’s no equivalent at the World Bank – difficult to know who to make request to, no record of decisions made etc.

Independent appeals body has been resisted strongly by the Bank.

IFC agreed to determine that projects had broad community support before going ahead. But it only appears in the board papers, which are secret.

US has been a champion for this issue on the board.

Has been strong growth in number of countries that have adopted Freedom of Information laws in last ten years. In some countries CSOs have accessed documents through national laws that have been denied to them by the Bank.

Bhumika Muchhala Bank Information Center: IMF transparency.

New GTI paper on the IMF has just been released. Current policy falls short of the GTI (see paper) IMF lags far behind the World Bank. First time a public information notice was disclosed was 1997 – i.e. for first 50 years there was no disclosure. This has changed thanks to civil society and government pressure. Feb 2001 = first disclosure policy agreed. Reviewed in 2005. Was to be reviewed every three years, now changed to every 5 years. Reviews are the only time changes can be made.


List of availability of documents, not of those which are to be kept secret.

IMF has an archives office with a different policy; no clear rules on which documents fall under which policy.

E.g. BIC refused access to board documents around Asian Financial crisis of 2007, even though the policy says they should be available after 10 years – no reasons given.

May 2009 = tentative date for review of disclosure policy.


British ED is very pro-transparency, US is supportive as are Nordics. Sticking point for many southern countries are Article 4 reports. 2001 = A4 presumption of disclosure existed (had to have written objection.) 2004 switched = now country has to write in to request disclosure.