World Bank Grants Access to Database on Loan Conditionality

12 December 2007

The World Bank has granted researchers access to an internal database used to track the conditions placed on Bank loans, an action that bodes well for similar transparency requests.

The unusual grant of access helped the European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD) to create a report somewhat critical of the Bank, as indicated in the title, “Untying the Knots:  How the World Bank is failing to deliver real change on conditionality.”

The release of the Bank database, the EURODAD report notes, was “a welcome exercise in World Bank transparency.”

Wider Policy Implications

Subsequently, responding to an inquiry by freedominfo.org, Bank officials clarified that even though a database may not be explicitly mentioned as a disclosable document, the Bank will release it if the underlying information is public.

In a statement to freedominfo.org, bank officials elaborated: “All of the information in the `conditionality database’ was already available to the public through other documents (in this case, the Program Documents and legal agreements for the loans and credits concerned). This information had been specifically approved for disclosure by the World Bank’s Executive Directors under part III of the disclosure policy which details the categories of information available to the general public or interested individuals or groups. The release of the database to interested outside parties was therefore consistent with the Bank’s policy on disclosure of information.”

Conditionality Database Based on Public Information

The Bank began tracking the conditions in a special database after a policy change in 2005 aimed at reducing dependence on conditionality.

Access was granted, one Bank staffer explained, “even though we weren’t technically required to.”  He noted that the database was cited in a paper sent to the executive board, and contains no nonpublic information.  The database is known as the ALCID Conditionality Database.

In the summer of  2006 a researcher at Stanford University, Desha Girod, http://www.stanford.edu/~dgirod/ asked for access and obtained it.

Girod found the compilation invaluable for her work on post-conflict situations, making it possible gauge whether resource-poor countries have higher rates of compliance with Bank conditionality.  Building a comparable database would have taken hundreds or thousands of hours, she said, commenting that access to the Bank’s resources “is really important from the point of view of scholarship.

Policy advocates also requested it. Elizabeth Stuart of Oxfam International asked or it on Nov. 27, 2006, and heard back affirmatively Nov. 29, 2006. The report was considered invaluable as the basis of the EURODAD report

The Bank staff did place a condition on recipients of the database, asking that it not be used for commercial purposes.  The database, in Microsoft, was sent by CD-ROM.  It now covers conditions placed through fiscal year 2007, which for the Bank ended June 30, 2007.

The Bank has decided against putting it on the web site, reasoning that that would give the false impression that the Bank could answer questions about it, according to a Bank staff member.  The EURODAD report recommended that the database be placed on the public web site.

As for EURODAD’s conclusions, one bank staffer questioned some of EURODAD’s reclassifications of the data, concluding that in order to comment on the conclusions he might need to ask EURODAD for its database.

World Bank Charges for Other Databases

Several major databases produced by the Bank are sold by subscription– $200 annually for World Development Indicators Online, and $400 annually for Global Development Finance online. Click here for more information.

Officials said that the public can view these databases for free at the World Bank Infoshop and other Bank offices.

A variety of other “datasets” are available free online, about 90, according to an unofficial tally.

They include databases on “Trade, Production and Protection,” “Armed Conflict 1946-2001,”  “World Business Environment Survey,” and others.

Bank officials said they could not produce an inventory of other databases produced by Bank researchers.

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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