ADB at Midway Point in Consultations on Disclosure Policy

9 June 2004


The Asian Development Bank is now about midway through its consultations concerning its proposals to change its disclosure policies.

In a second report on the consultations, freedominfo.org covered the May 13 and 14 sessions in Hanoi. The story highlights a wide range of comments; including opposition from nongovernmental organizations to secrecy for sensitive information, resistance of some government officials to disclosure without their permission, and a desire that ADB information be made accessible to a wider range of people.

The ADB has now concluded consultations in Indonesia, Fiji, Australia, Vietnam, and China. The next one will be held in London June 11, followed by sessions in Canada, the United States, Japan, the Kyrgyz Republic, two in India (New Delhi and Bangalore), and the last in Bangladesh July 19. The complete schedule is available at:

http://www.adb.org/Disclosure/consultation_workshops.asp

A previous freedominfo.org report covered the meeting in Jakarta.

In addition, written comments on the proposed policies are beginning to come in, mostly critical.

For example, Shalmali Guttal, from Focus on the Global South, wrote in part: “Overall, the ADB seems unwilling to disclose information about its negotiations and agreements with governments and the private sector, especially during critical preparatory phases. This is unacceptable.”

Other comments are posted on the ADB web site:

http://www.adb.org/Disclosure/external.asp

Some of the ADB consultations are described in notes and reports from NGO representatives who attended the sessions. These have been collected by the Bank Information Center, an NGO in Washington, D.C. To view these, see: http://www.bicusa.org/bicusa/issues/misc_resources/1436.php

ADB Letter Hints at Changes to Draft

The ADB recently turned down a request by two Japanese NGOs to prepare a list of all ADB documents. The request was made by Yuki Tanabe, of the Japanese Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society, and Kenji Fukuda, of Mekong Watch.

“We sincerely considered this request,” replied Rob Salamon, Principal Director of the ADB Office of External Relations, “But developing a list of all the documents ADB produces is not feasible whilst we are in the process of the review. We will reconsider developing such a list, similar to the World Bank’s information catalogue, after the PCP is finalized. Meanwhile, to better assist you in analyzing and critiquing the draft PCP, I suggest you look at ADB’s Operations Manual. The Operations Manual summarizes ADB’s policies and operational procedures for implementing those policies, and identifies the operational documents staff are required to develop.”

Salamon’s letter also sheds some light on the ADB’s thinking about possible changes to the draft. He wrote: “Thus far, we have heard that the Constraints section (Part VII, Section E) is confusing, and the criteria for documents that would not be disclosed are unclear. We will address these concerns when we revise the policy paper. At that time we will also consider developing a list of operational documents that would be subject to the constraints.”

Hanoi Consultation Features Variety of Perspectives on Disclosure

HANOI — The English-speaking nongovernmental organizations fell into silence when trying to answer the Asian Development Bank on what types of information should not disclosed.

Most participants in the May 13 meeting for NGO representatives to consult on ADB’s draft Public Communications Policy in Hanoi found it extremely difficult to specify what ADB information should be secret. “We don’t know what information ADB has,” one Vietnamese NGO representative said. “ADB should explain in much detail what the draft PCP is proposing about non-disclosure, with more controversial and provocative examples,” Toshi Doi from Mekong Watch commented.

Eventually, the NGOs agreed that “sensitive” information may fall into the undisclosed category. But they could not define “sensitive,” except for national security reasons.

Government Representatives Seek Prior Approval

At the second day of consultations May 14, a very first question from the government representatives was whether the ADB will disclose information related to the government without their agreement. ADB officials answered by saying that information related to government will not be disclosed without the government’s approval.

Bart Edes, ADB Senior External Relations Officer, said that ADB will not disclose information regarding alleged corruption in ADB-assisted activities or projects. “If there is an allegation of corruption with a project, we will investigate it. We have an anticorruption policy and an office responsible for looking into such allegations.”

The ADB would not disclose information that under its disclosure policy requires government approval to release. “We should keep in mind that the ADB is a non-profit, public sector bank. We make loans to Viet Nam. These are the country’s projects. The government has a role in consulting its people.”

Hoang Tuan Dung, the United National Development Programme information officer in Vietnam, said the ADB should consider the “cost of information,” and compare its interests to the public interest when deciding whether to share the information or not. He cited China and Vietnam’s different behavior in handling the SARS case, which is resulted from different interests.

The academic group of witnesses, which included World Bank and UNDP’s information officers, said the more information the ADB discloses, the better because information empowers people.

In the chapter about constraints, the ADB stated that it will not make publicly available information that, in its considered judgment, will harm the interest of the ADB, its members, its private sector sponsors, and ADB’s staff when such harm would be greater than the public interest.

Jaime Frias, the Vietnam country director for International Development Enterprises, the only one with a business background, agreed with the ADB that sensitive information regarding private sector copyrights sector should not be published.

No representative from the private sector attended the meeting to voice its concerns.

A government representative said information about a planned road should not be disclosed because could make land prices rocketed.

Making ADB Information More Understandable to Communities

Most of participants complimented the draft PCP as comprehensive. The World Bank’s information officer called the draft more advanced than that of others donors.

But participants also said that the ADB’s information is often so technical and lengthy that few people can read through it. They recommended the use of leaflets and community cultural activists to relay information to the people in their own language and in the most appropriate way.

Also suggested was using civil society networks such as credible NGOs.
Through such NGOs, the ADB could receive feedback, too. ADB should not place too much dependence on the Internet for information dissemination, because Internet usage is generally low and cannot reach the poor in the remote areas. Internet usage is only available in urban centers and universities, and widely popular among youth. Not many older researchers, policy-makers and prominent figures use the Internet. If the ADB tries using the Internet to approach target groups, it will have limited impact.

Hoang Tuan Dung suggested that the ADB should have a short, clear and strong slogan which will impact the mindset and heart of the audience.

The government representatives, from the ministries of finance, agriculture, home affairs, construction and transportation-those most involving in ADB’s projects–said the draft policy doesn’t mention strongly enough the ability of stakeholders to absorb information. It is focused on information disclosure without stressing how the information will be processed. Without that emphasis, they said, “… we will not know the effectiveness of disclosure — whether or not people know what the ADB has done. Information processing should be adapted suitably to a particular context so it can be more effective. If only one-way communication, don’t know whether the target group received info or not.”

They also suggested that the ADB should participate in the Vietnam Development Information Center (VDIC) in Hanoi to make information more readily accessible to all stakeholders. It is inconvenient to have information only in the ADB library.

The government representatives said ADB should consider further harmonization between the government and ADB disclosure policies. The Vietnam government already has regulations on the provision of information to international organizations which state clearly what information is secret or confidential. They recommended that the ADB work closely with Vietnam agencies to come up with the kind of information that can be provided.

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
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