GTI Challenges ADB to Improve Disclosure Plan

22 July 2011

The Global Transparency Initiative is urging the Asian Development Bank to improve its draft Public Communications Policy (PCP), saying it “now has a chance to jump ahead of the World Bank.”

Addressing issues raised by GTI “would place the ADB at the forefront of IFIs in terms of adhering to the international standards regarding the right to information,” according to the July 4 submission.

The comments address the so-called W-Paper, the pre-final draft of the revised PCP. This version was considered by the Board in its meeting on Feb. 16, 2011, in advance of the preparation of the final draft PCP (called the R-Paper). The R-Paper is targeted for approval by the Board in September.

The GTI highlights the major faults in the W-Paper in three major ways.

“First, the W-Paper does rather little to address the serious problems with the regime of exceptions under the 2005 PCP. It still allows for a third party veto on disclosure, and includes a number of category-based (instead of harm-based) exceptions.”

The GTI submission says further: “Third-party veto and category-based exceptions fail to conform to a rights-based approach to access to information, that is, one that upholds a presumption in favor of disclosure, subject only to a narrow set of harm-based exceptions.”

“Second, the W-Paper introduces a new provision (par. 103) granting the Board and the President the prerogative to restrict access to information not otherwise covered by any exception.”

The GTI explains: “Giving the President and the Board this power to override the policy at their discretion is directly contrary to the spirit of recognizing a people’s right to information. It is also unnecessary given that the regime of exceptions is already quite broad enough to protect all legitimate confidentiality interests. This is also reflected in the fact that national right to information laws do not provide for such override powers.”

“Third, despite the improvement in the substance and language of the provisions on access by affected people, the W-Paper only partially addresses the 2005 PCP’s lack of commitment to ensure effective access on the part of affected people.”

The GTI comment continues:

“The W-Paper still passes much of the responsibility for disclosing information to the borrowing government or private sector sponsors. This has the effect of significantly limiting the ADB’s responsibility for access by affected people, so that is ranks far below the Bank’s deep level of involvement in project conceptualization, approval and implementation.”

“This could have been corrected by simply committing to the joint development (with governments and private sector clients) of project or program communications strategies, instead of merely making a commitment to assist clients develop these strategies.”

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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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