ADB Draft Transparency Policy Criticized

21 June 2010

“Zero draft” is the informal phrase being used by Asian Development Bank officials to describe their opening proposal for a new Public Communications Policy.

ADB officials hope to convey that the draft proposal is a starting point — a work in progress.

But critics see the first draft as “a big zero.”

As the Bank begins a series of nine consultation meetings around the world, the critics say the ADB proposal does not incorporate suggestions made in the first round of public comments and needs significant improvement.

The NGO Forum on the ADB, a multi-member nongovernmental organization, and the Global Transparency Initiative, in joint comments, termed the first draft “profoundly disappointing.”

More specifically, they have identified three areas in which improvements should be made:

  • The exemptions to disclosure of information should be narrower exemptions,
  • An independent appeals body should be created, and
  • More attention should be paid to getting information to affected communities.

All three themes were discussed at the ADB’s second consultation, held June 17 in Washington, D.C. The first session was held in Toronto June 15, and other meetings are scheduled throughout the summer in Europe and Asia.

ADB officials stressed that they want the Manila-based institution to “stay in the forefront” on disclosure policy among the other international financial institutions and to be as “proactive as possible” in disseminating information. “I think it will be the next draft where the proof of the pudding will be,” one official said at the conclusion of the three-hour Washington meeting.  The ADB plan is to produce a second draft in August as the basis for further discussion. It remains up the ADB Board whether it will release the final proposal it receives. The target date for approving a new policy is next February.

The Washington consultation was attended by 23 persons, including representatives from the U.S. government, NGOs, and other IFIs.

During the consultation, both a U.S. Treasury official and a staff person for a key U.S. senator strongly urged the ADB to write a better policy. Both endorsed an external appeals body.

The ADB was urged to follow the lead of the World Bank in releasing staff recommendations on policies and programs as they are sent to the ADB Board, so-called simultaneous disclosure. This procedure is not included in the current proposal.  Also recommended was that the official statements of Board directors be made public.

Opening Board meetings to the public and the release of meeting summaries and transcripts was advocated.

The proposed policy on disclosing the names of firms barred from doing business with the Bank was scored as insufficient because while it would require the disclosure of those debarred twice, it appears to not require the disclosure of firms debarred once. Lack of total disclosure could expose the Bank to liability and credibility problems, one commentator said.

Several participants from NGOs urged that there be more disclosure about the operations of “financial intermediaries” who receive ADB funding.

The ADB could do more to help observers understand where the money goes, said another participant.

One unusual suggestion was for the Bank to apply “geo-coding” to its project materials to allow for computerized mapping.

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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