World Bank Reverses Decision; Releases Draft Egyptian FOI Law

8 June 2012

The World Bank’s Access to Information Committee has reversed an earlier decision and granted access to draft freedom of information legislation for Egypt, prepared by a Bank consultant.

The Bank had denied access to the document on March 20, asserting that it was covered by the “deliberative information” exception under the Bank’s Access to Information Policy.

But in a decision dated May 24, the internal administrative committee that handles appeals (the AIC) “concluded that the decision to deny access to the documents … violated the AI Policy, and reversed the decision.”  

Two related documents were released: draft legislation about proactive information disclosure with 21 articles produced in 2009 and a broader, 35 article full FOI law, done in 2008. Both were prepared by Toby Mendel, the executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Law, of Halifax, Canada, under contract with the Bank and the government of Egypt.

Bank Reverses Decision

In the key portions of its reply, the AIC wrote:

5. In this case, the AIC found that the Documents are technical assistance in nature and that such documents would normally be disclosed once finalized, if no AI Policy exceptions apply.  Based on the information provided by the relevant business unit, the AIC determined that the Documents belong to the Bank, and can be considered to be in final form.  As such, the AIC found that the Documents are not restricted by the “Deliberative Information” exception.  Further the AIC found no other AI Policy exception to apply to the Documents.    

6. Based on the above findings, in response to the appeal asserting a violation of the AI Policy, the AIC found that the Bank improperly denied access to the Documents based on the “Deliberative Information” exception, and thus, the denial was in violation of the AI Policy.  For this reason, the AIC reversed the Bank’s decision to deny access to the Documents. 

Consideration of the portion of the appeal asserting “public interest” was not required. Appealed `Narrow Reading’’s appeal of April 2 argued that the denial was based on an “incorrectly narrow reading” of the Bank’s access to information policy.

The Bank’s denial called the draft law “deliberative Information.” Explaining the policy, the Bank said in part, “The Bank, like any institution or group, needs space to consider and debate, away from public scrutiny. It generally operates by consensus, and it needs room to develop that consensus.” argued, “There is no indication that this report was integral to any consensus-developing process, either within the Bank or with the country.”

The appeal further said, “Second, disclosure of this report would in no way impede the candid exchange of ideas, the core rationale for the exemption.” The report was “submitted in fulfillment of a contract, and is therefore not a draft, but rather a final document,” said, also noting that it has been shared outside the Bank, including to the Government of Egypt and Egyptian NGOs.

The original request of Nov. 14 was not handled in a timely manner, taking about 17 weeks, or four times longer than the stipulated maximum of four weeks, also noted.

Efforts in Egypt to pass a FOI law are ongoing. (See previous reports and recent feature article by Mark Salah Morgan and Sahar Aziz that contains a link to the Arabic text of the government-drafted bill.)

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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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