World Bank Disclosure Report Makes Recommendations for Change

1 July 2003

The World Bank has encountered some difficulties implementing its disclosure policy, according to a Bank progress report published June 6, but overall the experience has been "generally good."

The report acknowledged some areas of weakness, particularly in disclosure policy awareness among Bank employees and in the Bank’s ability to monitor and evaluate its disclosure practices.

"Although all staff have regular access to training on disclosure, there are still gaps in knowledge; the result is a continuing risk that some aspects of the policy are not applied correctly," said the 19-page Bank report, which is not yet available to the public.

The report suggests that the Bank consolidate its databases to make the dissemination of information to the public faster and easier. The Bank has further planned to increase funding for public outreach in areas such as document translation and staff training.

The Bank report also includes proposals concerning the disclosure status of several new documents not addressed by the current disclosure policy, which dates back to August 2001.

The report was prepared in anticipation of a July 3 Executive Board meeting on disclosure. No results of that meeting have yet been formally disclosed.

Bank Information Center Sees Training Weaknesses

According to the Bank Information Center (BIC), a non-profit watchdog for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, a lack in staff training creates a major obstacle for those seeking to obtain information from the Bank.

"It is common for (World Bank) staff not to understand their responsibilities in regards to information disclosure," stated BIC in a review submitted in anticipation of the Bank’s July 3 meeting on disclosure policy.

The Bank report also describes new efforts to create a system of self-evaluation to study the effectiveness of its disclosure policy. "The structure includes a small team in External Affairs to function as the Public Information Center coordination unit that, among other things, will disseminate good practices in outreach and self-evaluation, and produce an annual report that evaluates results achieved and lessons learned," the Bank report states.

If this plan remains unchanged, the Bank’s self-evaluation scheme will likely prove much less ambitious than one proposed in the BIC review, which called for "a semi-independent panel that monitors Bank compliance with the disclosure policy and responds to citizens who are wrongly denied information."

"Any Bank staff who, in the process of responding to an information request, realizes that the Bank is out of compliance with the Disclosure Policy, should alert the relevant department and instruct those requesting the information on how to proceed," the BIC review recommended.

The BIC and other groups have criticized the Bank for not following the central principle behind the Bank’s disclosure policy, which is "a presumption of disclosure" in absence of a compelling reason not to disclose. As the BIC describes in their disclosure review, "The Policy’s guiding principle might better be described as a presumption against disclosure in absence of a specific directive to disclose."

Bank Report Suggests New Areas for Disclosure

Perhaps considering these criticisms, the Bank report acknowledges that the current process unnecessarily hinders the disclosure of important policy and strategy documents, including Country Assistance Evaluations, and proposes measures to expedite the disclosure process.

"When Management proposes to disclose policy and strategy papers that are not otherwise disclosable under the Disclosure Policy, Executive Directors will receive notification of this proposal… which will state that the paper will be disclosed… unless the Executive Directors deem otherwise. In the absence of an indication otherwise during the period indicated, Executive Directors would be deemed to have agreed to disclosure," states the proposal in the Bank report.

The Bank report also cites the need for clarity in the disclosure status of several new documents created after the August 2001 disclosure policy revisions. It proposes that the newly adopted IMF-Bank Relations Annexes, which coordinate the two similar institutions’ policies and division of labor, be disclosed after a review to ensure the document is free of confidential or sensitive information.

The review proposes that Country Reengagement Notes, a new document that lays out short-term strategy for countries resuming Bank involvement after some interruption, be disclosed on a voluntary basis with the government involved. The Bank report further proposes an increase in transparency at the Development Grant Facility (DGF), a branch of the World Bank that approves and allocates funding for projects operated by non-governmental groups across country borders, that could not otherwise be supported by traditional World Bank funding at the country level.

Although current disclosure policy prevents the DGF from releasing documents about its grant programs, new proposals in the Bank report, if implemented, would make the DGF Annual Report available to the public. However, DGF Grant Letters of Agreement and Evaluation Reports will only be disclosed only if the parties relating to the grants give their consent.

The Bank report further proposes that as supplemental loans are approved for existing projects, the Public Information Document (PID) for the project should be updated and disclosed.

Concerning Operations Evaluation Department (OED) Approach Papers, an outline of proposed OED analysis of Bank assistance, the Bank report states, "The fact that the approach paper is not disclosed has raised transparency issues with the Bank’s external audiences. Therefore, it is proposed that approach papers for all OED studies be made available to the public after CODE (the Committee on Developmental Effectiveness) has endorsed them."

The Bank report also proposes to clarify that Bank staff neither disclose nor publicly discuss when actual debt service payments have been made by borrowers.

The BIC review of World Bank disclosure policy implementation is available at www.bicusa.org.

By Gregg Holt

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ABOUT 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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