IDB Adopts Amended Public Disclosure Standards

1 December 2003

The Inter-American Development Bank on November 26 agreed to publish the minutes of its executive board meetings, the first development bank to do so.

The disclosure of minutes was the main advance made as the IDB board revised its entire disclosure policy. The IDB board decided to continue giving governments and private sector partners effective veto power over the disclosure of "sensitive" information, made little progress toward releasing documents earlier, and in general made few changes regarding disclosure of environmental and project-related documents.

After a year-long process, the revamped disclosure policy was accepted by the IADB board with only one dissent among its 14 members. Although the bank will not disclose which country voted no, freedominfo.org has learned that it was the Japanese executive director, Yoshihisa Ueda, who also represents the United Kingdom, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia. The negative vote reflected the view that the new disclosure policy still grants too much veto power to the governments, informed sources say. Although not trumpeted via press release, the new policy, to be effective Jan.1, is posted on the bank’s web site:

http://www.iadb.org/exr/pic/info26nov03eng.htm, and in Spanish: http://www.iadb.org/exr/pic/info/infofinalesp.pdf.

Minutes, Agendas, Work Programs to Be Released

One notable advance is the decision to publish board agendas at the same time they are given to the Board of Executive Directors, and to release board minutes within 60 days after their approval by the board. As is the case throughout the policy, deletions will be permitted if the material is "deemed by the Board as too sensitive for public distribution…."

The new policy does not define "sensitive," although that word is used frequently when provision is made for redactions. The bank does agree in its new policy to identify when such deletions have been made.

The release of minutes does not necessarily imply that a record of board votes will be available in those fairly rare instances when votes are taken. The minutes would include information on votes only if a member country specifically asks to record its position in the minutes.

In another advance, the IDB decided to release reports made to the board by the chairs of committees. These reports concern the committee’s discussions of operational and sector policies, sector strategies, Country Strategies, and a number other strategies. They will be released after board action along with related documents on the decision. This policy appears to go beyond the policies of other development banks.

The IDB also decided to release the agenda for board meetings at the same time it is sent to the directors, joining the International Monetary Fund in this practice. The IDB also has agreed to release its annual and its quarterly work programs, a practice followed several other development banks.

Permission for Country Vetoes Continued

Although committing in a "basic principles" section to release information to the public "in the absence of a compelling reason for confidentiality," the new IADB policy frequently would permit governments the opportunity to restrict disclosure about projects and policies.

This is the case for Country Strategies, for example, the key documents that provide an overview of key development challenges in borrowing countries and lay out the IDB’s strategy and lending plan.

Country Strategies will continue to be available only after board approval, thus limiting advance public comment. Recommendations from nongovernmental organizations that drafts of Country Strategies be released were not adopted.

Deletions from Country Strategies are permitted. Information deemed confidential under bank policies, or which the country identifies as sensitive, would not be disclosed. These practices basically track existing policies.

The board considered, but rejected, the suggestion that it release the annual "updates" of Country Strategies, but did decide to release the updated version of the "projected lending program," which is an annex to the whole updated strategy. New country strategies are usually written after new governments are formed, with updates prepared annually. The full updates will not be released.

Allowing governments to prevent the release of sensitive materials exists in numerous contexts. The "restrictions" section of the policy indicates that such veto options apply to country and sector analytical work, factual and technical information pertaining to projects, tranche release documents, country program evaluations and sector policy letters.

Little Progress on Release of Draft Policies

Clauses in early drafts of the disclosure policy suggested that government veto power would be modified in some contexts, but these were not adopted.

Language was removed that would have made available Country Program Evaluations "unless … the country concerned objects to disclosure and the Board of Executive Directors agrees." The new policy, Section III.D.2, however, drops any mention that board concurrence is necessary.

The same section specifies that requests for deletions must be made prior to approval of the document in question and be accompanied by reasons. It goes on to say that if a borrowing country objects to disclosure of a redacted version of the Country Program Evaluation, "the summary of the document shall be made available to the public, with information deemed confidential and sensitive redacted…. "

The IDB also pulled back from its earlier hints of interest in a more liberal release policy concerning draft versions of the documents that set bank policies regarding broad sectors, not specific to a particular country. The earlier draft suggested that drafts for sector policies, sector strategies and sector guidelines "will be made available," but the final policy indicates that they "may" be made available.

No Timetable Adopted for Release of Environmental Assessments

The IDB resisted NGO calls to set specific time frames for the release of environmental assessments of projects, which are prepared by borrowing governments. NGOs had urged a 120-day standard, as practiced by some other development banks.

Defenders of the IDB status quo argue that, in practice, environmental impact reports are available 120 days in advance of board meetings. The release of EIAs must occur in the country before the bank staff goes on its analysis mission, a step preceding board action.

The release of the bank staff’s evaluative Environmental and Social Management Report comes later after the appraisal mission.

These reports "will be made available to the public no later than the time at which the respective Loan or Guarantee Proposal has been cleared for distribution to the Board." This normally means about three weeks in advance of a board meeting, an IDB official said.

Rules on Other Project-Related Documents Unchanged

The disclosure policy of project-related loan documents appears not to be changed substantially, although various document names have been modified.

The earliest notice of potential public sector loans is through "project outlines," which offer very short descriptions, and seem to have replaced the longer Profile I documents.

The profiles, and additional project loan documents, now are to be released after being approved by the appropriate Management Committee, usually the loan committee. This applies to "project or technical cooperation outlines, concept documents, profiles, abstracts, or eligibility memoranda." The old policy did not use committee action as a release trigger, leaving it more to management discretion. Loan committee action typically triggers the dispatch of an appraisal mission, after an EIA has been made available locally.

For loan proposals prepared for private sector operations, a category which makes up about five percent of the IDB’s portfolio, less information is made available.

For private sector loans and those made through the Small Enterprise Fund of the Multilateral Investment Fund, a summary project abstract will be available after a "mandate letter" has to be signed by the bank and the private sector borrower.

Participation Strategy Language Dropped

An early draft of the disclosure policy would have committed the IDB to release an annual report on citizen participation in bank activities. Preparation of such a report was recommended in a draft strategy for promoting citizen participation that was prepared three years ago, much which has not been adopted. Recently, the bank has indicated it will resume work on the strategy, but an IDB official explained that reference to disclosing an annual report was dropped because no final decision to prepare such a report has been made.

A review of the disclosure policy in one year is stipulated, although no exact procedure is delineated.

The IDB said unreleased materials will not be available through its archives for 20 years, a longer period than used by most development banks.

The bank’s old policy is available at:

http://www.iadb.org/cont/poli/OP-102E.htm

The Bank Information Center page on the disclosure policy, including links to comments filed at the IDS is:

http://www.bicusa.org/policy/InfoDisclosure/index.htm#IDB

By Toby McIntosh

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Filed under: IFTI Watch

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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