GTI Submits Comments to African Development Bank

9 August 2011

The Global Transparency Initiative Aug. 9 provided comments to the African Development Bank on its proposed new policy on access to information.

GTI welcomed the commitment by the Bank to move to a proper presumption of disclosure and to establish both internal and external appeals mechanisms to review refusals to provide access.

At the same time, the draft AfDB “fails in important ways to conform to the standards set out in the GTI Charter.”

Among other things, the GTI recommended that the Bank should:

–          Recognise the human right to access information.

–          Commit to disclose key documents on a proactive basis.

–          Provide access to draft documents.

–          Establish rules regarding the procedures for making, processing and responding to requests.

–          Substantially revise the regime of exceptions and create a stronger public interest override.

–          Expand the scope of the appeals mechanism

–          Promote the Bank transparency policy internally and externally.

 The GTI comments on exemptions were critical. The summary states:

The regime of exceptions is the real Achilles Heel of the draft Policy. Although the draft Policy claims to establish a presumption in favour of disclosure and to be in line with the exceptions in the World Bank’s 2010 policy, in fact many exceptions are far too broad and most are not harm-tested. The relationship between the exceptions in the policy and the process of classification of documents is not clear, and emails may be taken outside of the scope of the policy depending on how they are filed within the Bank’s information management systems. Provision for a public interest override is weak, while the override can also be used to withhold information, contrary to international standards. We recommend a comprehensive review of the regime of exceptions to bring it into line with the standards set out in the Charter, and better practice by other IFIs, as well as in national right to information laws.

In addition, the GTI faulted the standard for what could be appealed, saying:

The GTI very much welcomes the establishment of this appeals process and, in particular, the Ad-hoc Appeals Panel reporting to the President. However, there are a number of serious shortcomings built into the draft Policy. Probably the most important is that para. 4.4.1 states:

“Restricted” documents specified in section 3.3 above (“List of Exceptions”) as not eligible for disclosure will not be subject to the appeals procedure.

It is not clear what this means but the primary purpose of filing an appeal is precisely to challenge claims by Bank officials that information does fall within the scope of the regime of exceptions. To posit this as a prior condition for exercising the right of appeal would, therefore, appear to deprive it of much of its relevance. Furthermore, the right to appeal should not be limited only to failures to provide information but should also extend to issues such as breach of the timelines for responding to requests, charging too much for the provision of information and failing to provide information in the form requested.

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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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