World Bank Issues More on Trust Funds; Still Limited

21 June 2013

By Toby McIntosh

The World Bank is disclosing increasingly more information about the hundreds of “trust funds” that account for about 10 percent of Bank operations, but there’s still no easy way to get a complete picture of individual trust fund operations.

A number of pro-transparency steps have been taken, and more moves are being planned. They include:

–          A forthcoming directory of trust fund programs will be searchable for the first time and contain more information.

–          Partial information about trust fund projects is more systematically included on the Bank’s main web page about projects and operations.

–          The Bank’s Executive Board is about to consider a Partnership Program Management Framework in an effort to bring more uniformity to trust fund programs and reporting.

–          The Bank is releasing more data sets about trust fund activity.

–          Trust fund programs not officially covered by the Bank’s access to information policy are being encouraged to adopt their own policies; sometimes better than the Bank’s.

Despite improvements, however, researchers face hurdles learning about individual trust funds and the operations they support. While the available data sources are complementary, they don’t fit together in a way that provides a clear view of each trust fund’s work.

The lack of an integrated source of information was criticized in late 2011 by the Bank’s internal evaluation branch as part of a larger, critical report on trust funds.

Bank officials now say they are beefing up efforts to integrate trust fund operations into overall Bank operations and to demonstrate “results” – both efforts having the potential for improving transparency. “We’ve been playing catch-up,” one official said.

Trust Funds Play Major Role

Trust funds are established for a wide range of purposes, supported mostly with government donations, and also by private foundations. For virtually all trust funds, the Bank’s access to information policy applies.

Trust funds serve many purposes. For example, a large multi-donor fund was set up to help reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Some are country or region-specific, such as the Cambodian Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Trade-Related Assistance. Others have specific topical goals, such as eradicating a disease, as with the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control.

Total trust fund resources held for fiscal 2012 were $29.2 billion, about the same level as the previous year, a plateau reached after a decade of rapid growth, according to the 2012 annual report, found on the main web page about trust funds. Annual trust funds disbursements average $10-$11 billion.

There are slightly less than 700 World Bank trust funds, according to a recent count by Bank officials. Many of the 700 should be viewed as just “bank accounts,” said officials, who drew attention instead to the 222 trust fund “programs” as the significant actors. These programs, listed in the 2012 Directory, are supported by multiple trust funds.

The fastest-growing trust fund category is for “Financial Intermediary Funds” (see World Bank brochure). The nearly 60 FIFs support 21 FIF “programs,” which account for roughly half of all trust fund activity. They include the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and the Global Environmental Facility (GeF),

The Bank acts as trustee for FIFs, but may not control or manage their operations. When the Bank is the administrator, about half of them, Bank policies apply, including the access to information (AI) policy. For 21 others, where the Bank is only the trustee, the AI policy doesn’t apply, but Bank officials say they are encouraging transparency there, too. Some such FIFs have disclosure policies or plan to adopt them.

Where the Bank’s access to information policy applies, requests for information can be lodged with the Bank. The AI policy says there is a presumption of disclosure, subject to a variety of exceptions.

Equally important to Bank observers, however, is what the Bank puts on its website – proactive disclosure.

The Integration Effect

Fueling the most substantial change in proactive transparency about trust funds is their increasing inclusion into the Bank’s online workflow system, the Operations Portal.

The coding done for the portal sends documents to a key Bank web page, known as Projects and Operations. It there that the public can see information on Bank activity in recipient countries, along with links to relevant public documents. It’s the premiere research resource for Bank activities.

Until about 2008, however, the P&O page did not contain information about trust fund operations. Around that time, major projects – those exceeding $5 million – began to be included, officials said, following the principle established in 2008 that trust funds would be mainstreamed into the Bank’s business process and systems.

Since then, information about smaller projects has been added, according to Bank officials, but they were unable to quantify the progress. FreedomInfo.org spot-checks suggest that few projects of under $5 million are represented.

Because of this uncertain coverage of small projects, and a variety of other reasons, the P&O web page is not the place to conduct thorough research on a specific trust fund.

In addition, because many projects are co-financed by the Bank and donor trust funds, the involvement of a specific trust fund may not be immediately apparent on the web site. It is sometimes possible to learn who all the participants are by examining the detailed project documents.

For example, a recent P&O entry on a project in Nepal doesn’t indicate its trust fund origins. Looking at the letter of agreement, however, shows that it’s from the Nepal Public Financial Management Multi-donor Trust Fund and even has an identifier: Grant No. TF012485.

Searching the P&O website will not easily yield information on the activities of a specific trust fund program.

Most basically, a key word advanced search using a trust fund name will not generate a complete response. A search by the Nepal trust fund name turns up no results, for example, one of numerous Freeedominfo.org test searches (see more below).

New Resource Under Construction

Promisingly, the Bank has plans to make one key document about trust funds much more useful, but its research potential is yet unknown.

The current annual Directory, dated March 31, 2012, runs about 250 pages in print. It is online, but as a PDF document, seriously limiting its utility.

This will change when the new version of the annually updated listing is released. The new directory will be searchable, according to Bank officials, and include more reports about specific projects although they were not specific about planned additions.

The 222 entries, usually about half a page long, contain capsule descriptions of the trust funds’ missions and operations, top-level figures for income and disbursements, plus contact numbers.

Several months ago, officials were anticipating a June launch for the new Directory, but now the prediction is for late summer.

In early July, the Bank’s board is scheduled to discuss a 40-page Partnership Program Management Framework. The draft policy aims it will promote standardization in program partnership operations, such as trustfund, with tools such as an aggregate results framework. Clearer policies are needed, officials said, for a future that will involve “umbrella funds.”  A consolidation in the number of trust fund programs is expected.

A section entitled, “Ensuring Clarity Through Communication” says misperceptions about partnership programs can arise because of inadequate communication resources. Development of a communications strategy is recommended. When the Bank has management responsibilities, the AI policy applies, according to June 13 draft obtained by FreeedomInfo.org.

Private Site for Donors

Not all Bank sites concerning trust funds are open to the public.

 The Donor Center on the World Bank’s Client Connection website, “provides donors with detailed financial data on their IBRD/IDA trust fund portfolio, along with a wealth of other reports, including individual monthly (unaudited) financial reports.” Bank officials said the administrative and financial information is not disclosable under Bank policy.

The standard letter of agreement with donors includes language such as this from a letter concerning the Afghanistan reconstruction fund: “The Bank will provide each Donor with quarterly reports on its ex post evaluation of the activities undertaken by the Monitoring Agent(s) including disbursements made out of the grant funds.”

A new and improved site for donors is being created to replace the Donor Center, with name “E-Business.”

Not All Fund Programs Have Web Sites

Currently, the key source for public information on trust fund programs is the annual Directory, which contains some basic information but has gaps.

About half the time, links exist to websites for individual trust funds, usually for the larger ones, according to a FreedomInfo.org count.

The larger funds’ websites are typically broadly descriptive, but they are not repositories for detailed disclosure about trust fund activities.

On only some of these websites there is current information about specific projects.

Some of the links in the trust fund Directory go to larger theme pages on the World Bank website, with almost no specific information trust fund information. Among those without websites is the $12 million Gender Trust Funds (GENTF). A Bank staffer directed FreedomInfo.org the Bank’s general “gender” page.

A typical website is the one for the $10 million Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). The site contains little specific project information.

More fulsome is the site for the $251 million GAVI Alliance which aims to introduce life-saving vaccines “faster than ever before.” It provides more information than most, with a page on disbursements.

Data Sets Newly Available

Another potential source for trust fund information sprang up in early 2013. It’s daunting and incomplete.

The Bank in March of 2013 launched a website containing hundreds of data sets on trust funds – spreadsheets and charts containing information about contributions, disbursements, and more.

The information can be sorted and filtered in multiple ways and there are “visualizations.”

There appear to be 303 datasets related to FIFs and 224 for other trust funds.

Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships, said in the press release: “The World Bank has actively encouraged openness and transparency in development, and this strategic priority applies to the trust fund portfolio, too. We welcome the release of trust fund data available in an open format that facilitates citizen participation in development.”

Seemingly the most popular is a chart of aggregate trust fund commitments and disbursements by fiscal year, with 22,400 views.

Many of the data sets appear to have very narrow purposes. Some data sets have had only a handful of views; most had fewer than 100.

Tied at 215 views each in late May, for example, were a data set on grants to Ghana from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Trust Fund and a data set on recipient-executed grants by many trust funds to “Africa.” The countries are not named in the later set, but TF numbers are supplied.

A further sampling:

–          A data set on “IBRD-IDA-IFC Trust Contributions grouped by Year.”

–          Another, labeled “Donor Countries” shows the contributions of all countries.

–          There’s a separate one for China’s trust fund contributions (and others for contributions from other countries).

Not all the data sets seem that useful to Bank outsiders. One promising sounding one is “A source for the Monthly Administrator’s Report on Financial Status” of the ARTF, the Afghan reconstruction fund. There are lines for 13 “project sectors,” a notation in the next row (all “closed”) and a “project name” that is a one to three digit number.

Some have oddly cryptic names: Raki2, Johanna Parra and Modul.

Overall, the datasets appear to provide raw material for determined researchers, but are not reader-friendly places for those looking for basic information on trust fund operations.

Aid Flows Another Partial Source

A related source for information is known as AidFlows.

In the search for information about the activities of a specific trust fund, this is an interesting side road.

It is a source for information on aggregate trust fund activities in specific countries.

AidFlows is a joint project of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in Paris. To navigate to trust fund information, select a country, then the “World Bank” tab, and then the “TF Programs” tab.

To use Albania as an example, the TF Programs page shows recipient–executed commitments and disbursements over five years, including fiscal 2013 in which nine funds have provided aid to Albania. This includes $206,800 from the Japan Social Development Fund.

Other features include a chart comparing trust fund support with that from other funding sources and breakdowns by category. For example, over five years, trust funds disbursed an average of $6.06 million to Albania, with 35.6 percent of it going to “public administration and law.”

The per-country information about trust fund activity is aggregated, so there’s no listing of the specific projects a particular trust fund supported in a country.

Nor does AidFlows display all the activity of the different trust funds.

FreedomInfo.org has asked whether information about a single trust fund can be prepared, a request under consideration at AidFlows.

FIFs a Special Case

Making specific requests for information to the World Bank through the access to information policy would be another way to seek information about trust funds. But when the Bank is only the trustee of a FIF and does not oversee operations, the Bank’s access policy doesn’t apply.

In the 21 such cases, however, Bank officials said they are encouraging the FIF governing bodies to adopt access policies like the Bank’s. Once adopted, the disclosure policies are administered the FIFs.

The Global Environment Facility follows the World Bank policies and goes further in releasing more draft documents, said John Diamond, the chief GEF spokesperson.

At a March meeting, the directors of the Green Climate Fund asked the interim secretariat in consultation with the co-chairs, to “prepare a document on information disclosure, including webcasting, for the June 2013 meeting.” according to the minutes. The Global Transparency Initiative recently commented on a draft proposal, urging narrower exemptions. (See related FreedomInfo.org report.)

Two Trust Funds Praised

One civil society group activist praised two trust funds he has been following closely for the past few years—the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the Forest Investment Program (FIP).

“Both have better than average disclosure practices,” he wrote FreedomInfo.org. The FCPF policy “goes a little bit beyond” the Bank’s AI policy. The FIP also discloses mission reports and draft investment plans for comments before decision meetings.

Both funds have governance bodies made up of equal representation by developed and developing countries, thus are considerably more “democratic” and transparent than many trust funds, the observer noted. “That having been said,” he added, “the FCPF is not living up to its own rules, much of the required information is not routinely posted, and even my ATI requests are not generating timely responses from the Bank.  The FCPF website is also not integrated with the WB website, such that almost none of the FCPF documents are available through the main WB website, creating an unnecessary barrier to access.”

ARTF as Example

FreedomInfo.org explored the world of trust fund transparency by sampling the available offerings. The general goal was to learn about the activities of particular trust funds.

One of the largest trust funds is the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), described as a partnership between the international community and the Afghan government for the improved effectiveness of the reconstruction effort, and topping $550 million in fiscal 2011.

A search on the P&O website with the words “Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund” generated 20 hits, with amounts ranging from $5 million to $120 million within the time period of 2003 to 2013.

This substantially understates the ARTF’s activity, and seems to verify that amounts below $5 million aren’t making it into the P&O site.

What’s there about projects includes plenty of detail.

One recently started effort is the National Horticulture and Livestock Productivity Project, approved Dec. 18, 2012. The entry on the P&O page has both a Bank project identification number (P143841) and a trust fund number (TF013820). There are links to related documents, including the letter of agreement, environmental assessments, the Integrated Safeguards Data Sheet, and procurement notices.

ARTF is well-represented in the data sets, with 140 data sets with multi-faceted breakdowns. One data set details disbursements. A search on the National Horticulture and Livestock Productivity Project found two entries, with information on two disbursements in 2013.

The ARTF website is less a spot for detail on specific projects than it is a source for big picture financial information and strategy documents. Also available are summaries of steering committee meetings, which are quite detailed and current as of the April meeting,

Country Views May Show Some Trust Fund Activity

Users of the P&O site typically look up a country and click through to the related public documents.

While viewing a country page, it is sometimes possible to identify trust fund projects.

One clue to finding them is when the P&O initial listing says “recipient executed” (as opposed to Bank-executed.”) Recipient executed refers to a grant that is provided to a third party, and for which the Bank plays an operational role – i.e., the Bank normally appraises and supervises activities financed by these funds. Many of these are backed by trust funds.

Clicking through to the associated project-specific information may reveal an identification number beginning with “TF,” indicating that is a trust fund project.

The TF identifier does not always include the acronym of the trust fund involved, but that information is contained in related documents, based on a small FreedomInfo.org sample.

For example, a recent P&O entry on a project in Nepal doesn’t indicate its trust fund origins. Looking at the letter of agreement, however, shows that it’s from the Nepal Public Financial Management Multi-donor Trust Fund and is Grant No. TF012485. A search by the Nepal trust fund name turned up no results.

A search with the fund’s name in the datasets did not return any hits.

Older, Smaller Material Not Included

The Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) is a moderately large trust fund, using funds from Japan to support “innovative programs that directly respond to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable groups of civil society.” The fund is described “an active portfolio of 143 grants worth a total of $268.7 million and an annual disbursement of around $37.4 million.”

A search on P&O generated five hits, in the time frame of 1994 to 2005.

The JSDF website features an annual report, but for fiscal 2011. To look deeper, there’s a tab on the site labeled “Approved Grants.”

The links to the two most recent “rounds” of approvals, numbered 33 and 34 did not function.

The Round 32 page, however, displays information about grants to three countries, in the amounts ranging from $2.5 million to almost $3 million. For two of the three grants additional descriptive information is available. The other entry explained with an asterisk that it was being revised.

Looking at one selected project (no TF number), for Nepal, there’s an 11-page description of a four-year project, to be performed done by the Poverty Alleviation Fund in Nepal in order to strengthen the local craft sector.

The project was approved in 2011, but it does not appear to be included in the P&O section on Nepal.

This may be a reflection of the sub-$5 million size of the project and the fact that it was approved two years ago.

The data sets page for the Japan Social Development Fund, includes the names of countries in which grants were made, and the disbursement levels, but not dates of awards or the TF numbers. When filtered by country, the project August 2012 project in Nepal (TF012485) did not display.

Information Limitations Cited in Internal Evaluation

The limitations on the availability of data on trust funds was remarked on in a 2011 report evaluating the performance of the trust fund portfolio, done by the internal Independent Evaluation Group.

The evaluation “utilized a range of Bank data sources for analyzing trust funds,” and includes at the end a note that “describes limitations encountered in the completeness or accuracy of the information available.”

The main trust fund database can’t be used to track BETF and FIF disbursements to a project or recipient country and is not integrated into the other Bank data systems.

“Most notable was the lack of complete portfolio information at the country, regional, and corporate levels that listed funding sources (trust fund, lending, and Bank budget) separately. This impeded portfolio analysis at those levels,” according to the report.

The eTrustfund portal, the main repository of trust fund–related information and designed much like the Bank’s operations portal for projects, had limitations, according to the IEG. “Limitations included many cases of missing or incomplete key documentation such as partnership review notes, trust fund proposals, administrative and grant agreements, and grant reporting and monitoring reports.”

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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