World Bank Issues Report on First Months of New Policy

22 December 2010

The World Bank’s first report on its new Access to Information policy recounts a major internal education effort, reviews the levels of requests, and reveals some of the first interpretations of the policy since it went into effect July 1.

The early interpretations indicate a willingness to consider redacting material so as to protect certain information covered by exemptions while still releasing other portions of a document.  This was an option not stated explicitly the policy, but now is recognized.

The report explains:

(c) Redaction. Under the AI Policy, the Bank considers disclosure of documents in their original form. If a requested document includes restricted information, the AI Policy does not mandate the Bank to redact (black out) restricted information in order to make the document acceptable for public access. While the Bank does not have a redaction policy to black out restricted information in response to public requests (meaning, documents that include restricted information are not publicly available), the Bank is not prevented from redacting restricted information on a case-by-case basis if it chooses to do so.

The internal Access to Information Committee (AIC), which makes such determinations, also decided that procurement information concerning trust funds managed by the Bank is not covered by the AI policy.

Public Interest Requests Denied

The same committee, which hears appeals from requestors, denied several efforts to invoke the “public interest” standard to override a staff decision not to disclose the documents.

In one case, involving the Rampur Hydropower Project in India, the committee denied access to requested documents because enough information was public already and the public interest basis for the appeal was “insufficient,” according to the report.

In another case, the committee confirmed the denial of IBRD/IDA Integrated Risk Monitoring Report, saying it covered by the  deliberative information exemption, and several others. The determinations will keep the document secret for more than 20 years.

In processing this request, the AIC noted limitations on its review authority, writing:

In reviewing the appeal on public interest grounds, the AIC found that the “Security and Safety” exception applies to the report, and recognize (SIC) that it is an exception that the AIC has no authority to override. It also did not find compelling public interest reasons to override the “Deliberative Information” exception (on which the Bank initially denied access to the report), or the “Corporate Administrative Matters” and “Financial Information” exceptions, which the AIC also found to apply to the report. For these reasons, in response to the public interest appeal, the AIC decided to uphold the Bank’s decision to deny public access to the report.

Overall, a total of 12 requests were referred to the AIC to consider whether to exercise the Bank’s prerogative to disclose the restricted information. Eleven of the requests were made by the general public, and one was made by a judicial entity. The AIC decided on seven of the 12 requests. Of the seven requests, the AIC exercised the prerogative to disclose in three cases.

The three requests for which the AIC exercised the Bank’s prerogative to disclose are the following:

–       Rwanda – Structural Adjustment Credit (Credit 2271-RW) – deliberative documents concerning the proceeds disbursed pursuant to this credit;

–       Jordan Public Sector Review, Report 19664; and

–       Regional trading arrangements and beyond: exploring some options for South Asia – theory, empirics and policy.

The Numbers

The report provides many numbers on documents voluntarily disclosed as the policy was put in place. It also indicates that thousands of Bank staffers have been trained on the new policy.

In the first three months of the policy, the Bank received 156 public requests for information.

The Bank completed 107 of those requests, with 49 under consideration as of September 30, 2010 (the end of the three-month period covered by the report).

Of the 107 completed requests, the Bank fulfilled (in whole or in part) 70 percent, and denied (in whole or in part) eight percent. The remaining requests either required more information from the requesters (who were unresponsive to the Bank’s requests), or involved different disclosure regimes or policies.

Of the 107 completed requests received in the period, the Bank provided comprehensive responses to 94 requests within 20 working days.

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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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