EBRD Making No Progress on Transparency, Groups Say

17 March 2014

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is proposing to make “no progress” on institutional transparency, according to a statement by watchdog groups.

“There are very limited amendments proposed in the Public Information Policy, which has remained largely unchanged for many years,” according to the nongovernmental organizations: Accountability Counsel, Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, CEE Bankwatch Network, Center for International Environmental Law, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and Human Rights Watch.

By contrast, other development banks “have made considerable reforms to their policies to reflect increased public demand for transparency and accountability.”

The limited changes to the EBRD disclosure policy, along with revisions to environmental and social policies, were the subject of a public comment that ended March 6. They are expected to go before the board in May. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The statement lauds the EBRD’s impending implementation of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), but says the IATI framework “will only require the EBRD to make publicly available limited information about disbursements.”

“The draft Public Information Policy does not commit the Bank to disclose information on social and environmental appraisals of projects,” according to the statement.

“Although the draft states that it is based on a presumption of transparency, this is undermined by an overly wide and extensive description of confidentiality that would prevent disclosure in many cases,” the groups say.

The statement continues:

One example is exemption 1.1 referring to ‘Documents intended for internal purposes only, or classified under the Bank’s internal classification regime as confidential.’ Such exemptions should be limited to information, the disclosure of which would cause significant harm, and should be subject to a stronger public interest test.

In addition, the policy sanctions non-disclosure if there is a confidentiality agreement with the client, in which case information can only be disclosed to the public if the client agrees.

Advance publication of social and environmental appraisals should be required; if potentially affected people do not have access to such information they may be unable to raise relevant concerns about projects before the Bank decides whether or not to fund them.

According to the draft policy, the EBRD will only disclose ‘confidential’ information in exceptional circumstances where the Bank considers it necessary in order to ‘avert imminent and serious harm to public health or safety and/or imminent and significant harm to the environment.’

There is no justification for such a stringent requirement for disclosure of information deemed confidential. This is in stark contrast to the World Bank’s policy to disclose information deemed confidential ‘if the Bank determines that the overall benefits of such disclosure outweigh the potential harm to the interest(s) protected by the exception(s).’

The policy does not provide for public disclosure of Board votes and statements on decisions relating to Bank policies and projects. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain whether Member States are complying with their obligation to uphold their human rights obligations in their conduct within the Bank.

 

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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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