The World Bank’s draft disclosure policy, published in October, marks a significant step forward in Bank transparency, but was criticised for excluding key information from public access.
The draft policy on the disclosure of information follows a consultation process that began early this year (see Update 52). In mid-November the Bank’s board approved the proposals. The final policy statement incorporating comments from the board will be issued in December, and will be effective from July 2010.
Transparency campaigners welcomed its recognition of the principle of maximum access to information, subject to limited exceptions. This signals an important shift from the current system of a limited list of available documents to the presumption that all documents will be disclosed, apart from those covered by specific exceptions.
The section of exceptions is wide enough that it may stop attempts to access information
Under the draft policy, board procedures would become more open, with summaries of their meetings published and most papers (including strategy papers and project appraisal documents) disclosed publicly when distributed to the board. Minutes and annual reports of board committees would be made available. The draft policy also promises proper procedures to handle requests for information, including an independent appeals body.
The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI), an international network of civil society organisations, issued a detailed critique of the draft policy, highlighting a number of shortcomings.
It warned that the exclusion of almost all information relating to the Bank’s “deliberative process” could place major limitations on public participation in decision-making processes.
Board meetings would remain closed. Third parties, including countries and contractors, would have the power to veto the release of any information they provide to the Bank. Draft country assistance strategies would not be disclosed routinely and details of corporate expenses are likewise exempt. Only three of the proposed exceptions (deliberative matters, financial information, and corporate administrative matters) could be overridden in the public interest.
The GTI called for exceptions to the transparency policy to be far more limited and clearly defined. Campaigners also noted that details that will determine the practical impact of the policy – such as fees, timings for the release of information, and translation – were lacking. Proper implementation will be vital: 42 per cent of cases brought to the Bank’s Inspection Panel have included alleged violations of the existing disclosure policy, according to analysis of its annual report by NGO freedominfo.org.
The review covers only the World Bank bodies that lend to developing country governments. The GTI wants the Bank’s other arms, such as the International Finance Corporation, to amend their policies to at least these standards.
Valeria Enriquez of Fundar, a Mexican research institute, said that the systematic procedures and a right to appeal to an independent organisation were “an achievement.” However, “The section of exceptions is wide enough that it may stop attempts to access information.”