World Bank Board to Meet in March on Disclosure Policy

10 February 2004

The World Bank Executive Board will return to the topic of disclosure policy at a meeting in March 2004, to again address whether to disclose more draft documents and board minutes.

The board last deferred action on these topics, asking for more Bank staff research. In the intervening six months, the research appears to have uncovered little evidence that problems would be created by greater disclosure of the final staff documents as they go the Executive Board for decision.

Observers consider it possible that some compromises could be crafted – such as phased-in implementation – and the outcome also will be influenced by how hard the proponents of disclosure, particularly G-7 countries, press the issue against resistance that generally arises from borrowing countries.

A variety of noncontroversial disclosure enhancements have been held up because the board opted for handling all the issues together. A conclusion to the limited disclosure policy, however, is expected by the time of the Bank’s spring meeting in late April.

Does Releasing Drafts Threaten Bank?

The board discussion of whether to release more materials in advance of their meetings has generated internal disagreements for years, and the delay was designed in part to allow the Bank management more thoroughly to look at the pros and cons of more transparency.

While often called "draft" documents, the materials at issue really amount to final recommendations from the Bank management that will form the basis for board discussion.

The Bank staff has identified hundreds of such documents that are sent to the board several weeks in advance of deliberations.

The documents most sought after include documents about potential loans and about the setting of broad Bank policies.

In the loan area, one key document is the Project Appraisal Document (the PAD) which summarizes staff recommendations on particular projects up for approval. The PAD is now only released after board approval.

Disclosure of the draft Country Assistance Strategies also has been advocated. Staff proposals on major policy decisions, such as Sector Strategy Papers, also are considered candidates for disclosure. So are the joint IMF-Bank staff appraisals of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

Although sometimes referred to as "drafts," many of the documents under discussion represent the Bank staff’s final report to the board. They are considered "drafts" because they are usually styled for eventual release by the board as a board document.

The Bank staff’s review of situations in which pre-meeting disclosure now occurs, appears not to have turned up evidence of the negative consequence some directors fear, that is, greater politicization of Bank board decisionmaking. Examples studied have involved the early release of materials at the Global Environmental Facility and the required disclosure by governments of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (developed by borrowing governments but approved by the Bank and the IMF).

The Bank staff has yet to finish its work on a report to the board, which may not be made publicly available, although earlier "progress reports" on the disclosure policy have leaked out.

Ultimately, the board may decide on phased or partial release of such documents.

Minutes, Summaries, Country Assistance Strategies

The Bank’s directors also are scheduled to revisit whether to release minutes of their meetings and the more detailed summaries, another topic the directors deferred from July.

Of particular interest is access to the summaries, which provide a detailed recap of board meetings without any names being disclosed. (For an example of the value of these summaries, see the freedominfo.org report on Country Performance Ratings.) The summaries are considered staff notes of the discussion and "not an approved record," according to a note on the summaries, but they typically takes several weeks to prepare, go into great detail, and are distributed within the Bank down to the department head level.

In addition, the board is expected to discuss adopting a stronger standard for the release of Country Assistance Strategies (CASs) from the comparatively better-off countries borrowing from the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

For the poorer countries borrowing from the International Development Association, CAS disclosure is virtually required by the Bank. For the IBRD countries, however, a weaker standard applies. If a borrowing government does not request disclosure, the CAS remains private.

Some Noncontroversial Changes in Disclosure Policy Expected

After the July 2003 meeting, officials indicated that a number of changes were not considered objectionable by the board.

On the list of documents that likely will be disclosed in a revamped policy are: IMF-Bank Relations Annexes, after their distribution to the Bank’s executive directors; Country Reengagement Notes; the Development Grant Facility Annual Review; an undated Project Information Documents for supplemental loans; and project completion notes.

These were among the suggestions made in a Bank "progress report" submitted to the Board last summer which formed the basis for the discussion (See June 2003 freedominfo.org posting).

While some prospective changes were considered noncontroversial by the board nine months ago, the directors decided to make no changes until they tackled the more contentious issues, particularly the release of more draft documents and disclosure of board minutes.

In the meantime, it also appears that the disclosure will be recommended for the annual report on Bank trust funds and IDA midterm reviews.

Also up for consideration is a "streamlined clearance process" intended to handle requests for materials not directly cited in the disclosure policy.

Despite the "presumption" of disclosure contained in the policy, such requests now must go to the board for disposition.

World Bank Starts "Catalog"

In a related development, the World Bank has developed a robust new way to search for documents.

The World Bank has not trumpeted the catalogue, but it is available on the web site. Freedominfo.org found it by clicking on the third item discovered by a search for "disclosure" on the World Bank home page. Or, try this link.

According to the introduction, "The World Bank Catalog provides a single point entry to an abundantly documented history of international aid development." The site allows multifaceted search possibilities into "several, but not yet all, of the World Bank’s information systems." According to the Bank: "Coverage will increase incrementally over the next few years. The current edition of the World Bank Catalog provides access to the vast resources of the World Bank Archives and ImageBank and more than fifty types of Bank documents. The Catalog allows documents to be found and downloaded. Requests for disclosure review of eligible documents can be made and definitions of document types can be looked up in the Glossary."

By Toby McIntosh

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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).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748