World Bank Reviews Disclosure Policy, Postpones Action on U.S. Reform Ideas

1 July 2003

The World Bank’s Executive Board has asked its staff to examine several transparency issues raised by the United States and other members, including the possibility of releasing draft documents prior to board discussions and disclosure of board minutes, according to informed sources.

The ideas for expanded disclosure were raised when the Board on July 3 discussed a progress report on the implementation of its disclosure policy. Questions were raised, however, about the suggestions for additional disclosure. As a result, the Board deferred the debate and authorized further study. The Board is expected to revisit these issues again this fall.

The Board did not take final official action on a handful of disclosure policy reforms proposed in the progress report prepared by the Bank staff. However, some of these changes were judged uncontroversial and are expected to win approval, perhaps even before the Board returns to debate the more controversial proposals.

On the list as likely to be disclosed are: IMF-Bank Relations Annexes after their distribution to the Bank’s Executive Directors, Country Reengagement Notes, the Development Grant Facility Annual Review, an updated Project Information Document for supplemental loans, and project completion notes.

The Bank issued no statement on the board’s July 3 discussion, but information on the discussion was gathered by from nongovernmental and Bank sources. The U.S. Treasury Department declined to release a copy of the pro-disclosure statement it made.

Two New Issues Raised

The Bank staff has been asked to investigate more about the proposals that final draft documents be released to the public in advance of Board meetings.

Transparency advocates have urged such predecisional notice for documents that go to the Board about pending projects and about major policy shifts.

This level of disclosure is not favored by some Bank members, in part because of the additional logistical burdens it would impose and in part out of concern that Board meetings would be further politicized by a higher level of lobbying by outside interests. Sometimes members argue that they have small staffs and would be unable to handle the potential outside pressure.

Advocates of releasing draft documents contend that failure to do so substantially hinders the potential for public understanding and involvement,

In addition to discussing pre-meeting disclosure, the Board also debated a U.S. recommendation that minutes of the meetings be revealed.

Under current policies, the outcomes of most Board deliberations are recorded in various kinds of summary statements and post-decision disclosure of staff reports and other documents.

Again, transparency advocates argue that this shields the Bank’s decision-makers from public scrutiny.

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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