Lack of Clarity in the Process for Rewriting the EIB Disclosure Policy

1 September 2002

On June 28, 2002, at a EIB consultation with NGOs in Copenhagen, Martin Koehler, a staff member with the Campaign to Reform the World Bank, demanded "a formalization of the disclosure policy review process, with clear timelines regarding the publication of drafts, the status of such drafts within the institutional decision-making process, and the period of public consultations."

His comments come after more than a year during which the EIB has been internally revising its disclosure policy, but without advancing a draft policy. Bank officials have said that a new policy will be issued shortly-apparently in final form-at which point the public will be invited to comment, according to NGO officials who have discussed this with EIB officials. A key EIB official on this is Adam McDonaugh, director of communications policy.

Koehler’s remarks in Copenhagen noted the practical difficulties for interested parties with a "freewheeling reform process." He also contended that the EIB has a legal obligation to follow European Union uniform practices for more transparent policymaking.

To read Kohler’s statement (in English) see the eighth item: "Il testo integrale dell’intervento di Martin Koehler della Campagna alla consultazione pubblica della BEI con le Ong europee, tenutasi a Copenaghen il 28 giugno 2002.

Information on Proposed Projects Too Limited

Bank critics object that much important information on upcoming projects is released only if permitted by the project promoters, including corporations and governments.

As the Bank explains it, "The Bank’s policy is to release information, whenever possible and as early as feasible, on all projects it considers for financing-`everything but’ approach. The only exceptions are projects where the promoter specifically requests non-disclosure on justified grounds of commercial/market confidentially."

The last word is key. As a result, observers eagerly anticipate the Bank’s definition of "confidentiality."

CEE Bankwatch has commented, "The argument that project information cannot be released because disclosure would conflict with obligations of confidentiality during the deliberative process contradicts the goal of participation and partnership."

Further, Bankwatch wrote, "Allowing promoters to determine information disclosure flies squarely in the face of EU commitments to openness and transparency, and specifically fails to comply with Directives relating to information release, as well as the EU’s obligations under Aarhus and the Espoo Convention. Exceptions to the right of information are very precisely defined in EU laws as well as the Aarhus Convention. Commercially sensitive information can be defined and omitted in the project description but should not prevent the project from being mentioned in the pipeline (a reference to the EIB’s Project Pipeline, a feature initiated by the EIB report in early 2001). Koehler expanded on the legal argument in his Cophenhagen remarks, arguing that Aarhus mandates for public access to information on environmental matters are binding on the EIB.

Koehler remarked in Copenhagen that the definition "should include clear criteria of the motives on which information will be granted – as is `best practice’ in other international financial institutions…."

NGOS have also made a series of recommendations concerning the content of project documents. For more information click here.

Clogged Pipeline

Although the EIB wins praise for having created a web site with improved listings of projects under consideration, critics have shown that the Bank is not providing information as promised; "as early as feasible in the project cycle."

The Bank’s "Introduction to the Project List" says it will disclose new projects which have reached "an advanced states in the discussions on possible EIB involvement." And further on timing, "Projects will be introduced before the EIB Board of Director’s approval, the precise timing depending on progress with loan preparation and the views of the promoter." The Bank has set the standard of 60 days advance notice.

But Koehler’s research suggests this policy is routinely violated. He evaluated 134 projects listed since the beginning of 2002. Despite giving the Bank a break by using 45 days as his research standard, Koehler found that out of the 134 projects, 21 went on web site after the board’s approval or on the same day; just above 15 percent. He found that another 21 had been listed for less than 45 days, meaning that the Bank had not provided in adequate notice in about 31 percent of the 134 cases.

Making a few other assumptions, Koehler concluded , "In sum, it is reasonable to assume that about 42 percent of the project listed have been listed too late for a qualified intervention from third sides."

Koehler recommended a 2003 goal of having 90 to 100 percent of the listings be at least 45 days prior to approval. All nonconfidential information should be provided.

Koheler said that the information in the listings in particular cases has been "quite unclear, misleading or even wrong."

The project pipeline should be expanded, he suggested, to include "missions to the project, and midterm and final project evaluations.

By Toby McIntosh

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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).
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