Public Interest Appeals to World Bank Unsuccessful

9 September 2011

Appeals to the World Bank to release information “in the public interest” that otherwise is deemed confidential under Bank policies have been unsuccessful so far, according to Bank reports.

However, in a recent appeal case, the Bank’s Access to Information Committee decided to use its own prerogative to release otherwise exempt materials. The decision came in appeal by an unnamed requester who sought documents involving Bank loans to Namibia, but had not made a “public interest” argument.

Since the Bank implemented its new policy on access to information in July 2010, the internal committee to which appeals are made has denied all five “public interest” appeal arguments, according to Bank reports.

The most recent denial — this one regarding Mexico — was described in the third quarterly progress report  on the access to information policy, which covers the first quarter of 2011.

Under Bank “practice,” the names of requesters are not disclosed on privacy grounds and “in the spirit of protecting the privacy of the requesters,” the appeal request documents themselves also are kept confidential, said a Bank official responding to a FreedomInfo.org request.

Also in the latest report

The Bank reports provide broad detail about proactive disclosure efforts and the handling of requests for information.

Requests were fulfilled 89 percent of the time in the quarter, the report states, 71 percent within eight days, but the average time for dealing with the more complicated requests was 50 days.

Almost all the denials occur because the Bank asserts that release would interfere with the “deliberative process.”

Descriptions General

Little reasoning is given for the committee’s actions regarding the documents on Namibia or Mexico

The report says the sought-after documents for Namibia concerned the Education and Training Sector Improvement Program. The documents are not fully described, but the committee determined that they were “deliberative in nature” and thus could be kept confidential under the Bank’s policy.

Nevertheless, the report continues, the Bank decided to disclose them.Regarding the denial of the request concerning documents on Mexico, the report said the committee held the deliberative process exemption justified not disclosing an evaluation of the economic value of water.

The report noted that the Bank had provided the requester with “two public documents containing the key results from the draft report.” In view of those factors, the committee denied the public interest appeal for the full report.

In the first quarterly report the Bank indicated that the committee had denied the two public interest appeals it received. In the second report the Bank said two more such appeals were denied.

 Nine Public Interest Disclosures Made

Outside of the appeals process, the committee also weighs other access requests and in some cases has exercised its prerogative to determine that the overall benefits of such disclosure outweigh the potential harm to the interests protected by the exceptions.

The committee has now considered whether to do so in 18 matters and exercised its discretion to authorize disclosure in nine instances, according to the three Bank reports that have been issued since the new policy was implemented (4 out of 6 in report 3; 2 out of 5 cases in report 2; 3 of 7 in the first report).

 The nine instances are:

 First Report:

 ? 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.

Second Report:

 ? Ghana Urban Water Sector Reform Project (PO56256); and

? Sanitation Improvements in Kabul City Financed by the World Bank Project: Co-

Composting Pilot plant at Chamtala Dumpsite.

Third Report:

? IBRD Board Policy Statement, December 14, 1993, regarding the IBRD’s policy

towards granting waivers of the negative pledge in lending transactions;

? Public expenditure review regarding Ghana;

? Power point presentation, titled “Enabling Environment for Civil Society in

CDD Projects”; and

? Communications regarding the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline Project.

 Still No Cases for Appeal Board

The AI Appeals Board, made up of three outside experts, serves as the second and final level of appeal for those appeals alleging a violation of policy. However, the third report states, no suchappeals have been filed.

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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