ADB Board Getting Briefed on Disclosure Policy Proposals

18 January 2005

The executive directors of the Asian Development Bank on Jan. 21 will discuss a “working paper” outlining plans to revamp the ADB disclosure policy that critics say remains deficient.

The closed session is not intended as a decision-making meeting, but after months of drafting, the briefing signals that the policy rewrite is nearing completion.

Pro-transparency campaigners are focusing their criticisms on a number of areas. They are seeking a better appeals process, more availability of staff recommendation documents when they are sent to the board, and greater disclosure of documents concerning private sector projects.

The concerns about the appeals process revolve around what should be reviewed, who can seek a review, and who should conduct the reviews.

One concern is that appeals about deviations from the disclosure policy could only be lodged by project-affected persons who can demonstrate material harm. Also, the working draft limits the discretion of the reviewing body regarding the potential scope of its authority. And the three-stage process could take time. Critics are suggesting that appeals go directly from a management committee (the Public Disclosure Advisory Committee) to the Compliance Review Panel without an intervening stop with the Special Projects Facilitator, a mediation step that can take many months. Commenters from nongovernmental groups have also asked that the disclosure appeals be handled by an independent panel, not one that reports to the board, as does the CRP.

A broad theme of transparency reformers is access to key conclusory documents sent by the staff to the board. In the context of the ADB draft policy, many such documents are still being kept under wraps. These include the staff proposals on public and private sector project proposals embodied in the Report and Recommendations of the President (RRP) given to the board in advance of the board meeting. Also being sought are staff papers making recommendations on broader institutional policies.

The ADB has said such disclosures would “negatively affect the deliberative and decision-making process.” Proponents of such a change argue that it would allow directors to receive input on critical decisions before they meet as a board.

Critics are also asking that the advance notice of board meetings and the planned topic be made available six weeks in advance, not three.

Another area of apparent disagreement centers on prohibitions in the draft policy that would flatly prohibit the release of important documents regarding private sector projects. In particular, the policy would bar the release of Project Completion Reports for private sector projects. Also undisclosed would be Legal Agreements for the projects. The alternative to these blanket exemptions, pro-transparency NGOs state, is for the ADB to apply protections for specific confidential information and disclose the rest of the document.

A variety of other weaknesses also are cited by critics. These include the ADB’s continued unwillingness to disclose more about its operational budget, the lack of a register of documents, and the policies on what will be proactively disclosed. An ADB plan to issue a summary of board discussions about country lending strategies is good, critics say, but could be expanded to cover meetings on other subjects.

In addition, discussion is continuing within the institution, and with campaigners, about the relationship between the main portion of the policy document and a detailed appendix.

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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