ADB Offers Draft Transparency Policy, Requests More Comment

10 March 2004


The Asian Development Bank has issued a proposal to revise its disclosure policies and called for further public comment by May 28.

Although the Feb. 28 draft does not propose dramatic changes, such as the disclosure of certain key draft documents, it does include numerous suggestions for more disclosure. The accompanying report is exuberant about the value of transparency, critical of the ADB for being “timid” with its message and frank about the infirmities of the ADB’s 1994 disclosure policy compared with the more recently updated policies of other international financial institutions.

The process will continue with a second public comment period and a dozen public hearings at scattered locations (Beijing, Bishkek, Dhaka, Hanoi, Jakarta, London, New Delhi, Ottawa, Suva, Sydney, Tokyo, and Washington D.C.).

Eventually, the special internal committee convened to make recommendations will make its further conclusions and send them to the ADB executive board on a schedule for completing the changes by the end of the year.

Since launching its review publicly last summer without a draft proposal, the ADB has received 72 submissions from outside groups, mostly from nonprofit development and environmental groups, and about two-thirds from southeast-Asian countries.

The report, the draft, the public comments, and the list of planned hearings, still without dates, are available at: http://www.adb.org/Disclosure/default.asp

Combined Communications/Disclosure Policy

The analysis in the report begins by stressing the need for greater transparency at the ADB and outlining negative consequences from a failure to act.

“It is clear,” says the report, “that if ADB does not adapt to the new era of greater openness, it will find itself out of step with both its comparator institutions and public expectations, thereby risking overt criticism, as well as diminishing understanding and support for its operations.” Failure to act would bring “serious risks,” according to the report.

The draft Public Communications Policy, placed prominently on the ADB web site, combines what previously were separate plans on “information policy” and “disclosure policy.”

Regarding external relations, the report states, “Many people, both internal and external, feel that the ADB is insufficiently well known, and that its good work does not reach a wide enough audience.”

One appendix to the report examines practices at other IFIs, and a second appendix compares current ADP practice with the proposed changes.

Movement Made in a Variety of Areas, With Some Caveats

The ADB draft appears in a number of instances to move toward greater disclosure of key documents, although with caveats.

Critics have asked that the ADB release a draft of the Country Strategy and Program (CSP) and the Regional Cooperation Strategy and Program (RCSP), key documents in laying out the strategy for ADB involvement. The ADB draft leans in the direction of concurring that releasing a draft would have benefits by saying it will “provide ‘information’ to in-country stakeholders to engage stakeholders in dialogue about the new CSP,” but without explanation adds that release of a draft CSP remains “at ADB’s discretion.”

More pro-disclosure are a variety of small new steps involving the CSP process, including: releasing in advance a list of upcoming reviews, translating each new CSP into at least one official language of the concerned country after board endorsement (even though an earlier draft suggested wider translation), and releasing summaries of board discussions.

The ADB draft would appear to make it more likely that drafts of broad policy and strategy papers will be released. A summary of the board discussion would be made available “as appropriate.”

Project Information Proposals Modest; No Draft RRPs

Regarding public sector projects, the ADB draft suggests more attention will be paid to the Project Information Document, a descriptive Bank document prepared while projects are evaluated. They should be updated quarterly, the draft suggests. Further, the draft proposal makes a commitment to provide project information to affected persons during project preparation.

The draft would require disclosure of Initial Poverty and Social Assessments (IPSA), which do not have to be disclosed currently. Their disclosure would occur one month following a fact-finding mission.

The Bank proposes only slight changes in the existing policy of not releasing technical assistance reports prepared by consultants, but leaves open the option.

Regarding the important project assessment document known as “Report and Recommendations of the President,” however, the committee has not accepted the idea that a draft RRP be made public when it is sent to the board for consideration. The proposed policy speaks in terms of releasing the RRP “no later than upon approval by the Board of Directors.”

The policy on disclosing RRPs concerning private sector lending remains about the same; they can be disclosed after board approval with the prior consent of the project sponsors.

Once a project has begun, the draft disclosure policy would permit somewhat more information to be available. It advocates public availability for social and environmental reports, “changes in scope” documents, and progress reports on tranche releases. The proposal would hasten disclosure of evaluation reports.

The draft policy does not support the release of aide memoirs, reports produced by Bank staffers on projects and country strategies. These and other staff-prepared reports are explicitly excluded from disclosure in the “constraints” section of the report.

Minutes of board meetings, not now disclosed, would be made available within 60 days of the meetings, after the removal “of material deemed by ADB as too sensitive for pubic distribution.” A schedule of the board’s tentative agenda, not now available, will be released three weeks prior to the meeting, the draft also says.

The draft proposal follow the IFI pattern of describing the documents to be released, and those not to be released, but without establishing a procedure to determining the grounds on which other documents should be released.

In an effort to address potential complaints about interpretation of the Public Communications Policy, the draft suggests that complaints be taken to a Public Communications Advisory Committee.

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).
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