IDB Approves New Disclosure Policy

13 May 2010

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) May 12 approved a new “Access to Information Policy” likely to increase the level of transparency at the institution.

The changes largely track reforms recently adopted by the World Bank.

The IDB set an international speed record for writing and approving the new disclosure policy, rushing it through as part of an effort to bolster its case for a capital replenishment. The haste came at the expense of a planned public comment period.

The IDB Governors, pressed primarily by the United States, requested the rapid action at a meeting in Cancun in April and also decreed that the new policy should match that of other international financial institutions. The IDB heralded its new policy—done in 55 days from start to finish—as “one of the most far-reaching among multilateral financial institutions.” The Bank on March 19 announced a 30-day comment period on a general statement about intended changes. The IDB’s draft policy was released April 26.

Transparency activists agree that the policy contains many of the advances seen in the recent World Bank disclosure policy, but were disappointed at the limited movement concerning IDB private sector lending operations, so-called Non-Sovereign Guaranteed Operations. The NSG section, like other sections of the policy, liberally allows governments and private sector participants to block disclosure of information. The World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, is currently revamping its policy amid preliminary signals it may not be headed toward major advances on transparency.

The IDB pushed slightly ahead of the World Bank in one area. It would permit Executive Directors to release formal statements they make at IDB meetings. The World Bank recently rejected such permission for its own directors.

The IDB policy otherwise follows the World Bank model in many respects, especially by adopting a presumption of disclosure subject to limitations spelled out in a list of exceptions.

In addition, the IDB policy would also provide for the simultaneous disclosure of certain documents as they are made available to the Board of Executive Directors. Country Strategies, Loan Proposals and Technical Cooperations would be released at the same time as Board distribution, subject to the non-objection by the country involved. That veto provision drew criticism from civil society groups.

A three-person external body would be empowered to review denials of requests for information.  The external panel, however, would not be allowed to reconsider denials of requests for information on the basis that the benefits of disclosure would outweigh the harm done. The IDB policy allows for an “override” of the disclosure policy “in extraordinary circumstances” if the harm of disclosure would exceed the benefits, and vice versa.

The policy provides for the release of minutes of various Board committees. The IDB does not prepare a more detailed summary of the discussions, so did not follow the World Bank’s lead in promising to disclose a summary.

“A number of project monitoring and evaluation documents, including annual audit reports, would be made public for the first time,” according to the IDB press release, without mentioning some of the limitations. In general, the policy will not permit the release of staff evaluations of ongoing projects, but may increase the flow of certain factual information about projects.

Board Softens Section on Environmental Disclosure

The Board modified one section (5.2) of the April 26 draft to remove a proposed requirement for borrowing countries to disclose both environmental and social assessments, and annual project reports.

The softened language references the Environmental and Safeguards Policy that “appropriate information will be provided … to allow for affected parties to be meaningfully consulted.” The new policy thus does not explicitly require borrowers to make the disclosures, a sensitive point for borrowers. Bank officials emphasized to Freedominfo.org that the Bank would directly disclose both the environmental and social assessments, as it has been doing, and would also disclose for the first time annual project audit reports.

An annual review of whether environmental and social assessments are being disclosed by borrowers will be conducted, according to the second sentence in the section.

President Lauds New Policy

“The new policy is part of our ongoing reform efforts to make the IDB more accountable,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. “As we further strengthen the mechanisms to measure the impact of our work, keeping the public informed of what we do in a timely fashion is essential. On the critical issue of transparency, it will allow us to lead by example.”

The new policy is to take effect on January 1, 2011. Annual staff reports on the policy are mandated.

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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