GTI Praises, Criticizes World Bank Disclosure Proposal

4 November 2009

The World Bank’s proposed disclosure policy falls well short of its potential, but it still will bring greater transparency to the Bank, according to the Global Transparency Initiative, an international nongovernmental organization.

The GTI November 3 sent the Bank extensive new comments, including many recommendations to improve the policy, which the Bank’s Executive Board is scheduled to discuss on November 17.

The Bank is poised to take a major conceptual step by accepting the principle that all Bank information should be available to the public unless it falls within the scope of the regime of exceptions, according to the GTI.

The group said other positive commitments include:

  • disseminating more materials in advance of Board meetings;
  • releasing the summaries of Board meetings;
  • launching a proper system for processing requests for information; and
  • establishing an independent appeals body.

“The GTI congratulates the Bank for making some very important strides forward in the new proposed policy” said Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Advisor, Article 19. “However, the very wide exceptions being proposed could really undermine the policy. The Bank should make a strong commitment to openness, as many of its members have in their national right to information laws.”

Bruce Jenkins, a consultant with the Bank Information Center, noted that while the revised policy is an improvement from previous iterations, it is not without significant weaknesses. He stated that “the Bank has taken major steps forward, including expanded routine disclosure and a first-of-its-kind independent appeals body. However, it then partially claws back these gains through heavy-handed limitations, such as the withholding of draft information that would undermine more participatory decision-making processes.”

Their criticisms focus particularly on the proposed exceptions to the presumption of disclosure. Among other potential results, governments and third parties, such as Bank contractors, would be able to veto the release of almost any information they provide to the Bank.

The GTI said that certain interests need to be protected through exceptions, for example personal, health, and safety information. However, it recommended more nuanced and precise harm-based tests to protect legitimate interests such as relations with governments, the commercial interests of third parties, and the free and frank provision of internal advice.

The positive principles set out in the draft policy also are undermined by the near absolute protection provided for information used during the decision-making process, according to the GTI, which recommended a more sophisticated harm-based tests to protect legitimate deliberative interests.

Also troubling to the GTI is the proposal’s assertion that the Bank’s disclosure policy trumps national right to information laws. Among other things, this would restrict access to the statements made by country representatives such as the Executive Directors in official World Bank meetings.


By Toby McIntosh

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Filed under: 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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