Groups Suggest Changes in EBRD Public Information Policy

1 September 2002

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is preparing a new draft of their Public Information Policy (PIP) that may be presented to the EBRD Board for first review sometime in the Fall. Groups following the EBRD have submitted many suggestions for change, as summarized below.

Access to Evaluation Documents.
Lack of Process for Making Disclosures.
Translation and Web Posting of Key Environmental Impact Assessments.
Earlier Release of Environmental Analysis Documents.
Release of Environmental Analysis for Category "B" Projects.
Release of Emergency Response Plans.
Timing of Release of Project Summary Documents.
List of Technical and Factual Documents.
Environmental Section of the Final Review Memorandum.
Information on Implementation of Projects.
Translation of Environmental Procedures Document.
Staff Response to Public Comments on Policies.
Schedules for Future Projects and Events.
Access to Board Minutes.

Access to Evaluation Documents

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.

This genre includes such things as Expanded Annual Monitoring Reports, Operation Performance Reports and other types of project evaluation documents.

If adopted, the EBRD would be following the lead of other multilateral banks that have started disclosing more information on evaluations.

"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."

 

Lack of Process for Disclosure

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 EBRD 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.

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.

 
Translation and Web Posting of Key Environmental Impact Assessments

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. The group argued that not requiring sponsors to translate the documents decreases the ability of locals to gain information about projects affecting them directly. Bankwatch also recommended that EIA should 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.

The Bank is handling this matter in the context of a review of the Environmental Policy, not the Public Information Policy, according to a Bank official.

 

Earlier Release of Environmental Analysis Documents

Bankwatch has suggested releasing all EIA documents to the public 120 days before Board consideration. A uniform time period would override the two tiered structure now in place. EIA’s prepared for projects being managed by the private sector now have to be available for half the time required for projects sponsored by a public sector organization.

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.

 

Release of Environmental Analysis for Category "B" Projects

Currently, EBRD does not 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. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank require the release of documents in parallel categories.

 

Release of Emergency Response Plans

Emergency preparedness plans prepared by project sponsors, such as the company that runs the Kumtor gold mine, do not have to be disclosed under EBRD rules. 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.

 

Timing of Release of Project Summary 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, according to Bankwatch. This would end current policy, which allows a shorter disclosure time for private projects.

Under current policy, PSDs for private sector projects are supposed to be released at least 30 days prior to consideration by the Board. 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.

Another impediment to transparency for PSDs occurs because a sponsor may voice confidentiality concerns. This reason was used to without the document in almost one-third of cases examined.

 

List of technical and factual documents

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.

 

Environmental Section of the Final Review Memorandum

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 by Bankwatch. 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.

 

Information on Implementation of Projects

Once launched, a project proceeds with almost no information about implementation being available. Only if the national government requires public reports is such implementation material available.

 

Translation of the Environmental Procedures Document

How the Bank should handle projects with environmental consequences is written down in the document known as the Environmental Procedures. However it has not been translated into national languages. Bankwatch feels that misunderstandings about specific projects have resulted from the inability of locals to access these procedures. Because Environmental Procedures are not altered frequently, translation wouldn’t be too costly, Bankwatch said.

 

Staff Response to the Public Comments on Policies

Prior to the consideration of new Board policies, Bankwatch has suggested, the EBRD should release the summary of public comments prepared by the Bank staff, and the staff response to the comments.

 

Schedules of Future Projects and Events

Also, Bankwatch suggested that the release of both monthly and half-yearly 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.

 

Board Minutes

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.

 

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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).
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