World Bank Issues Annexes to Access Handbook

22 April 2011

The World Bank has released “attachments” to the staff handbook on how to follow the new access to information policy, after having resisted their release for months on the grounds that they concerned “Corporate Administrative Matters.”

The Bank voluntarily released the attachments “A” and “C” after having persuaded the internal Access to Information Committee to deny a requester’s appeal that the public interest override should trump the Bank’s reliance on the exemptions containing in the policy.

Attachment A describes disclosure processes in great detail. For example:

The originating unit transmits the PAD to SECPO, indicating in the Board eSubmission Form that the PAD is to be disclosed at the end of the Board deliberative process. SECPO distributes the PAD to EDs. Upon approval of the Project by the Board, SECPO notifies IDU that the PAD should now be disclosed.  IDU then changes the classification to “Public” and posts the PAD on the Bank’s external website.

Attachment C mainly concerns proposed language for Bank staff to use with the public when making disclosures.

The decision of the AI committee against disclosing these materials is noted in the recently issued Bank report on the access policy, the second quarterly report since the policy went into effect July 1, 2010.

A Bank official told FreedomInfo.org, “Since the AIC’s decision, and as the work flow processes are becoming more established, staff updated the Attachments, and the AIC exercised the Bank’s prerogative to disclose Attachments A and C. Attachment B is not disclosed because it contains information concerning Bank systems.”

The report supplied many statistics on the Bank’s experience with the policy and says the Bank “has continued to make significant strides towards increasing public access to information that is in the Bank’s possession.”

Noting “growing” public interest, the Bank said it posted 2,682 new documents and reports in the Bank’s Documents and Reports public database. The number of visits to the Documents and Reports database increased by 46 percent; and the number of documents downloaded by the public increased by 11 percent. Since the introduction of the AI Policy in July 2010, the public has viewed more than two million pages in the Documents and Reports database, according to the report.

The Bank handled 209 public access requests under the new policy, completing 74 percent by the end of the second quarter period (the end of December). “Of the public access requests that had adequate information to enable the units to fulfill or deny the requests, the Bank fulfilled (in whole or in part) 80 percent, and denied (in whole) 20 percent.”

Of the requests that were completed in the quarter, 76 percent were completed within the policy’s 20 working day standard, averaging 10 working days. The remaining requests that required additional time for completion averaged 48 working days, and involved special circumstances that justified the additional time, the Bank said.

Describing the denials, the Bank report states:

Of the 25 public access requests that were denied (in whole or in part), 56 percent (14 cases) were denied because the information is covered by one or more of the following four AI Policy exceptions: “Information Provided by Member Countries or Third Parties in Confidence,” “Corporate Administrative Matters,” “Personal Information,” and “Deliberative Information.” Eight percent of the requests (two cases) were restricted from public access as a result of the Bank’s exercise of its prerogative to restrict access to information normally disclosed. Approximately a third of the denials (nine cases) were for other reasons, the majority of which was because the requested documents were not found to be in the Bank’s possession.

The Bank considered seven requests to determine that the overall benefits of such disclosure outweigh the potential harm to the interests protected by the exceptions and exercised the prerogative to disclose in two cases. One concerned the Ghana Urban Water Sector Reform Project (PO56256) and the other a composting pilot project in Kabul City.


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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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