EBRD Reviewing Information Disclosure Policy

1 July 2002

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is preparing a new draft of their Public Information Policy (PIP) that will be presented to the EBRD Board for first review sometime in the Fall, Bank officials confirmed.

"This is a process of EBRD staff listening to comment and criticism, identifying where improvements can be made, making proposals to senior management of the Bank, and eventually presenting proposed changes for consideration by the Board of Directors," said Brigid Janssen, director of communications at EBRD.

Specific weaknesses in the current PIP and suggestions for inclusions in the new policy were highlighted in a document issued in February 2002 by CEE Bankwatch, an association of NGOs and non-profit civic organizations in Central and Eastern Europe.

"The EBRD treats comments from NGOs very seriously," said Janssen. "NGOs certainly do help the Bank change, quite often because we anticipate the concerns they will have and build them into projects and policies from the outset. Bankwatch has been our main NGO interlocutor traditionally, but we are proactively seeking input and interaction with more NGOs at the local level."

Getting Evaluation Documents, Translations Top Demands

Among the 16 points described, Bankwatch Suggestions for Improvement of the EBRD Public Information Policy lists as critical issues the availability of certain evaluation papers and the translation of documents into local languages.

Both sides indicate the importance of more translations.

"The main areas of focus for possible change concern ways that we can strengthen dialogue with local communities and ways to allow the Bank to benefit more from their input. The possibility of more use of local languages for key policies is an example of a more direct response to NGO concern," Janssen said.

A representative from Bankwatch agreed that the EBRD has paid attention to this issue.

"The staff has been very sympathetic to the issue of documents in local languages. This is one of the issues we will get," said Petr Hlobil, International Oil and Climate Coordinator for CEE Bankwatch.

Bankwatch would also like to see the increased availability of evaluation documents.

"There is a much bigger hesitation among the staff about the evaluation documents. They need a push from shareholding countries," Hlobil said.

Bankwatch stated that the release of certain evaluation documents such as the Expanded Annual Monitoring Reports, Operation Performance Reports and other types of project evaluation documents, is essential. If adopted, the EBRD would be following the lead of other multilateral banks that have started disclosing more information on evaluations.

The release of evaluation documents to the public is significant in increasing transparency because taxpayers fund the projects originally and should be allowed access to evaluation information, the paper states.

"The point is that the Bank is doing evaluations of projects and making assessments about implementation," Hlobil said. "This is a public institution and these issues should be known to the public."

Disclosure Process Changes Also Sought

Another problem cited by CEE Bankwatch is the lack of an independent review board to examine instances when EBRD refuses to release information following a specific request and to ensure that consistent standards for release are met.

In February, the Bank met with NGOs to discuss the creation of such an appeals/compliance mechanism, which would allow the public’s comments to be heard and responded to fairly. Currently the staff is preparing a paper on the topic that will be submitted to the Board in the coming months. If approved, the compliance mechanism would be general, and not implemented specifically for PIP.

"A compliance mechanism is really essential. The Bank has been very vague about it and we still don’t know any details," said Hlobil.

Without such an appeals/compliance mechanism, the EBRD is not held accountable when its refusal to disclose information violates PIP, the paper states. Most EBRD shareholding nations also have similar boards to maintain accountability and transparency.

Janssen said that they have met with NGOs on the topic, illustrating increased contact with the groups. "The relationship with NGOs is becoming increasingly interactive," she said. "We meet with them periodically in smaller groups, on issues such as the design of a compliance mechanism, for example."

Bankwatch has also requested the implementation of a clear timeline for responses to requests of information, similar to the policies of most shareholding nations. Also suggested was requiring the inclusion of a reason when requests are turned down.

Additional Bankwatch Reform Proposals Focus on Environmental Documents

Along with the above issues, Bankwatch suggested 13 other points, including eliminating the differences between the treatment of private and public evaluation documents and disclosing specific information about project implementation.

Increased disclosure of implementation and operation documents for projects will allow stakeholders to inform the EBRD when perceived impacts differ from actuality, according to Bankwatch. The current policy doesn’t require disclosure by the project sponsors–who see the project through to completion and may be a corporation or a public entity-unless they are willing to or required by national legislation to do so. Public input could help the EBRD as the staff does not have a significant amount of time to monitor the implementation of a loan, Bankwatch said.

Despite protests from the EBRD about cost, Bankwatch suggested that Environmental Procedures, which outlines specific guidelines that will be followed during the project, be translated by local companies into the national language.

Bankwatch also suggested releasing a list of all documents that are currently available in the local language. Bankwatch feels that misunderstandings about specific projects have resulted from the inability of locals to access these procedures. Included in the Bankwatch paper is a chart outlining the specific cost of translating such legal documents, intended to give EBRD an estimate of the potential expenses. The paper also points out that because Environmental Procedures are not altered frequently, translation wouldn’t be too costly.

Similarly, the translation of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) written for category "A" projects–where "the impacts are potentially significant and cannot be readily identified, assessed, or mitigated,"– into local languages should not be dependent upon the decision of project sponsors in its consultation with EBRD, Bankwatch recommended. Not requiring sponsors to translate the documents decreases the ability of locals to gain information about projects affecting them directly. The paper argued that restricting the flow of information in an "understandable form" is restricting the public’s ability to contribute to the project in any way.

EIAs should also be available, in full form, on the Internet, either on the specific company’s web site or on www.ebrd.com. Currently, the EBRD just "strongly encourages" project sponsors to include EIAs on their web sites and provides a list of EIAs with links to project sponsor web sites on the EBRD web site. Because smaller companies without web sites cannot be expected to create one simply for the purpose of posting EIAs, the current policy is not sufficient, stated Bankwatch. Already the EBRD releases Executive Summaries of EIAs on their web site, so there should be no difficulties in releasing the full document, Bankwatch said.

"Questions on EIA are being handled in the context of a review of the Environmental Policy, not the Public Information Policy," said Janssen. "Full consultation will be undertaken for the environmental policy review which is imminent."

Currently, EBRD does not require the release of Environmental Analyses, written for category "B" projects, which are defined as those "where any future environmental impacts are potentially significant but where, because of their nature, size and location, they can be readily identified, assessed and mitigated." Bankwatch suggested the Environmental Analyses be released publicly for a period of 60 days before board approval. Interestingly, this issue was brought up previously by NGOs in a public comment and feedback period between Jan. 24 and March 10, 2000, but was not commented upon by EBRD.

Bankwatch also suggested disclosing oil spill and emergency response plans, to inform and reassure locals who would be affected if such an event were to occur. There is no current provision that requires the release of these types of documents. The release of such plans would provide citizens with more information about the project and its possible consequences, therefore allowing an increase in communication between the public, companies, and authorities. Recognizing a potential need to keep certain information private, the paper suggested organizing the document in such a way that the omission of sensitive information would not adversely affect comprehension.

Wanting to eliminate the discrepancies between the treatment of public and private sector projects, the Bankwatch paper suggested releasing all EIA documents to the public 120 days before Board consideration. Now, the policy requires that public sector EIAs be released a minimum of 120 days before Board consideration and private EIAs, a minimum of 60 days. Bankwatch argued that if the environment will be affected, whether the project is public or private is irrelevant. If adopted, this policy would be comparable to the Asian Development Bank’s policy on EIA disclosure.

Timing of Release an Issue for Project Documents

Project Summary Documents (PSDs) should be released 60 days prior to review by the Board, regardless of whether the project is public or private, and a provision that allows certain documents to remain undisclosed due to confidentiality is unnecessary, Bankwatch stated.

Under current policy, PSDs for private sector projects are released at least 30 days prior to consideration by the Board, unless the EBRD’s client or co-founding institution gives reason for confidentiality. Public Sector PSDs are released as soon as possible following initial project review by Bank management, around 4-5 months before Board approval, and at least 60 days before Board discussion. Again, Bankwatch said, differentiation between public and private sector projects should be eliminated, and information should be accessible to those before the project is presented to the Board for approval, allowing time for comments and suggestions.

Bankwatch also suggested including a list of technical and factual documents prepared during project preparation in the PSD. By doing this, EBRD would provide a better clue as to what information is available on the project, and what information can be requested.

The release of the environmental section of the Final Review Memorandum, or the Environmental Review Memorandum, which both give information regarding the EBRD’s view on the results of certain policies and the environmental consequences of a project, is suggested. Currently, a summary of environmental issues and related mitigation actions are included in PSDs, but the information is briefer and is presented in a different form than the information found in both memos.

Also, Bankwatch suggested that the release of both monthly and half-year schedules on the planned projects and events of EBRD would further increase the transparency of the decision making process, giving fair warning to the public about its agenda. The World Bank Board has adopted a policy requiring a similar plan.

Bankwatch proposed that without the release of the minutes from meetings of the Board of Directors, citizens are unable to find out exactly what issues are being raised and supported, decreasing the transparency of the institution. They also suggested releasing the Record of Vote, though this would require a change in the Rules of Procedure by the Board of Directors, rather than the PIP.

After the first review of PIP by the Board, the policy will be sent back to the staff for revision, after which it will be released to the public, before final approval by the Board. Bankwatch has argued that The Summary of Comments and Staff Response to the Comments, a document that compiles suggestions from NGOs in regards to PIP and EBRD staff comments on the specific suggestions should be released prior to Board approval. They point out that several comments made by NGOs were excluded from both the policy and the Summary, illustrating the need for this requirement.

Hlobil said he isn’t sure of how much will actually be accomplished during the review.

"To a certain degree, they will cover most of the issues that we are raising, but there is no clear judgment on how much will happen," he said. "Publically, they say they listen to NGOs, but looking back, very few recommendations from NGOs come through." (By Robin Brand, July 31, 2002)

Bankwatch "Suggestions for Improvement of the EBRD Public Information Policy" can be found at http://bankwatch.org/issues/mebrdpip.html

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Filed under: IFTI Watch


In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748