World Bank Releases Few Summaries of Meetings

15 October 2010

By Toby McIntosh

The “summaries” of World Bank Executive Board meetings now being disclosed under the Bank’s new Access to Information policy are substantially shorter and less comprehensive than the summaries prepared before the Bank agreed to release them, according to a Freedominfo.org review.

In addition, the Bank has not disclosed summaries for all the Board meetings held since the new policy went into effect July 1, releasing only six summaries.

It appears that the summaries are being released only for board discussions about projects, but not about discussions on broad policies, such as those on country partnership strategies.

Further, a comparison with the minutes from the same period indicates that the summaries do not cover all matters discussed at each Board meeting.

Efforts to obtain explanations from Bank officials have so far not been successful, although answers have been promised.

Pro-transparency advocates this summer lauded the impending access to the summaries as a major advance contained in the new policy.  The Bank has long prepared such summaries for internal use and their disclosure was seen as a way to gain new insight into the Board’s thinking.  The documents summarize comments made at meetings in some detail, but without names.

Few Summaries Released

As of Oct. 15, however, only six summaries had been released, according to the World Bank listing. They cover developments at meetings on July 1 and 8,  Aug. 5 and Sept. 16.

This accounts for only some of the board meetings held during the three-month period including July, August and September.  There is no clear way on the World Bank website, however,  to tally the number of meetings held during that period. 

The Bank does release minutes of meetings, but they are quite abbreviated, and usually take months to come out.

The most recent minutes available, as of Oct. 14, were for an Aug. 5 meeting. In the period between July 1 and Aug. 5, there were nine meetings of the Board covered by the minutes.

Summaries, Minutes Relationship

The relationship between the minutes and summaries is puzzling. 

 There are two summaries for the meeting of July 1, regarding Brazil and Tunisia.  These actions are noted in the minutes, but the meeting also covered other topics, including matters involving the G-20, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Similarly, there are two summary documents for the Board meeting on Sept. 16, for which minutes are not yet available.

Late Summary, No Summary?

Suggesting that summaries for some kinds of discussions are not being disclosed, there is no summary yet for a meeting held several weeks prior to the date of most current summary document.

The Aug. 31 meeting concerning overall Bank policies regarding Lebanon, the Country Partnership Strategy. (See related FreedomInfo.org report.)

Prior to the meeting on Lebanan, the Bank, under another new policy,  released the key document to be discussed at the meeting, suggesting that the country had no objection and that no highly sensitive matters were at issue. 

The “simultaneous disclosure” of the document came as a result of another reform included in the Bank’s new disclosure policy. This change allows some documents to may be made public when they are sent to the board in advance of the meeting, subject to certain conditions, such as approval from the affected government.

Shorter Summaries

The summaries that have been released seem to be significantly briefer than those prepared before the new policy went into effect.  All of the six documents released are two paragraphs long, filling about half a page.

By contrast, previous versions usually covered two to six pages. Freedominfo.org previously reported on the summaries, and published a few examples.

The 2010 summaries concern projects in Belize, the West Bank and Gaza, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Tunisia.  The summaries suggest that all the projects were noncontroversial.

Belize Example

Contrasting two summaries, both relating to Belize, shows the differences between past and present.

The summary of the 2010 deliberations on a project in Belize has five sentences. The tenor was obviously supportive of the proposed project. One sentence notes:

Executive Directors expressed broad support for the Municipal Development Project which is the first lending operation in Belize in the last ten years.

A summary of an April 2009 meeting on an “Interim Strategy Note” for Belize, by contrast, was two pages long,

It included many comments from speakers.  For example:

6. Macroeconomic and Fiscal Issues. Some speakers expressed concern about the longer-term outlook for Belize. One of them said that the modest investment loan would be more appropriate in normal times than in the exceptional circumstances that the country currently faced. He asked how Belize could address the fiscal tensions between the short-term needs and medium-term recommendations made in the paper. Moreover, if conditions were to worsen, he asked what other sources of financing were available to Belize.

Arguably, the 2009 discussion was bound to be more complex because it was not just about a project.  But a June 2009 summary  obtained by FreedomInfo.org on several projects, in Ghana and Mali, are longer and  more detailed than the 2010 model. 

The project in Ghana concerned environmental sanitation.  A sample comment is:

5. Management Action Plan. A large number of speakers agreed with the Management Action Plan and praised its candor. Speakers supported management’s two-pronged strategy to addressing the need for responsible solid waste management. They appreciated the aim of increasing capacity building and planning for an Integrated Sustainable Waste Management Strategy and safeguards that addressed medium and long-term needs of the municipality. They asked for more details about short-term needs for solid waste management.

Bank Policy in Section 23

The new disclosure policy seemed to pledge release of the summaries.

Section 23 of the new policy lists states in part, “Board papers and Board records that are routinely available from the Bank are posted on the Bank’s external website at specific Board milestones. Some Board discussions may deal with issues that fall under the exceptions of the policy. In such cases, the related Board records are classified as “Confidential” and “Strictly Confidential” and are not disclosed unless they become eligible for declassification under the declassification schedule provided under paragraph 33 of this policy statement.”

The section goes on to list “Summaries of Discussion (related to Board meetings)” as among the Board documents that may be disclosed.

Finding Summaries

To find the summaries, go to the main Bank “Documents and Reports” page.  Select “advanced search” then go to down to “Document Type.” In that category, look under “Project Documents” and select “Summary of Discussion.” Then hit “Search.”

There do not appear to be any other summaries listed under other headings, according to a Freedominfo.org review conducted with the help with a World Bank official.

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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
1-(703) 276-7748