World Bank Denies Access to Procurement Review Reports

12 February 2015

By Toby McIntosh

The World Bank, despite being a major supporter of “open contracting,” restricts access to its own reports on “post-procurement reviews.”

Most recently, the Bank refused to disclose a report concerning the procurement process for a controversial project in Serbia.

Investigative journalists in Serbia have raised questions about the qualifications of the contractor selected for a large Bank-backed project to pump water out of the flooded coal mine. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network reported Jan. 8 that neither member of the winning consortium had the required experience and that one company’s director is on trial for tax evasion. (English version by Aleksandar Djordjevic.)

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic branded the BIRN journalists “liars” and pro-government publications have accused BIRN, a nongovernmental organization, with being a foreign agent.

Bank Officials Deny Access to Report

Bank officials confirmed the existence of a report on the procurement process, but told journalists from BIRN that they would not release the report. (BIRN article by Gordana Andric.)

A Bank official e-mailed BIRN:

As you know, the World Bank has its own Access to Information policy (link provided here) in which you will see that the Policy precludes us from making any procurement reviews public. These explicitly fall under the category of confidential information.  So we are not in a position to provide such documentation.

Vesna Kostic, a Bank spokeswoman told the state news agency Tanjug that the Bank’s experts had conducted an analysis of the tender that was “more comprehensive than in any previous project funded in Serbia.”

When BIRN asked for the report, Bank officials declined to provide it, without providing any specific rationale for the denial.

BIRN has filled an official request for the document using the Bank’s access to information procedures.

BIRN has not requested the document from Serbian government officials, but plans to do so. Bank policy does not prohibit the government from releasing the report.

Bank Rationale for Nondisclosure

The reasoning behind the Bank’s refusal to provide the Serbian document is spelled out in a case involving a loan in Bangladesh. A requester was denied access to post-procurement review reports about a major education project.

The requester sought access “[c]opies of all ‘post-procurement review’ reports undertaken during 2013 in relation to Bangladesh projects/programmes,” and “[a]ny report summarizing the outcome of post-procurement reviews undertaken in Bangladesh since July 2010.” Both were done in 2013.

The requester appealed an initial staff-level denial taking it to the internal Bank review committee, the Access to Information Committee. The AIC in June 2014 upheld the denial. The matter was not appealed to the three-person independent review panel.

The AIC reason for denying access, as explained the decision, is to “preserve the integrity of its deliberative processes by facilitating and safeguarding the free and candid exchange of ideas.”

The AIC decision says:

In this case, the AIC found that the document identified as “Post Review of Procurement Contracts Primary Education Development Program III” had been prepared by a consultant procured by the Bank to conduct, on behalf of the Bank, a post review of the procurement contracts awarded under the Bangladesh Primary Education Development Program III (“PEDP III”). The information was prepared and used in support of both the Bank’s internal deliberations and its deliberations with external parties, including the member country concerned, regarding the implementation of PEDP III. The AIC, therefore, concluded that the requested information is of a deliberative nature and restricted by the AI Policy’s Deliberative Information exception.

The same rationale also applies to a similar type of analysis document, “post review reports” about Bank-financed contracts, usually undertaken during a Bank supervision mission. These PPRs contain findings, recommendations and mitigation measures. “The Bank ensures that the recommendations and mitigation measures in the report are implemented by the Borrower,” a Bank staffer wrote, continuing: “PPR are deliberative documents between the Bank and a client and are therefore not published.”

There is an important bit of additional policy, “The client may decide to publish upon request,” a Bank official explained.

The Bank is in the middle of rewriting its procurement rules, with transparency as a stated goal, however, the proposals don’t seem to change the policy in the access to information policy.

Conflict With Open Contracting Principles? 

These refusals come against the Bank’s recent support for the development of international Open Contracting Principles, which encourage the release of as much information as possible about procurement.

The principles suggest that post-mortem reports should be subject to disclosure, at one point advocating transparency for “performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports.”

Officials working on the open contracting initiative would not comment on whether the Bank’s nondisclosure position on post-procurement reviews was consistent with the principles.

One staff person said generally that the transparency of post-mortem reports would be guided by Bank and/or country disclosure policies and be subject to exemptions in those policies. The open contracting staff is housed in the World Bank office in Washington.

The open contracting principles, unveiled in June 2013, are aimed at national governments, and the World Bank has not officially endorsed them, but the Bank is a major funder of the effort and houses the staff working on the effort, called the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP).

The principles begin with an overarching goal:

  1. Governments shall recognize the right of the public to access information related to the formation, award, execution, performance, and completion of public contracts.

Throughout the principles, transparency is presented as a virtue. A list of what should be released include such things as “(r)elated pre-studies, bid documents, performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports,” and “(a)ny conflicts of interest uncovered or debarments issued.”

The principles emphasize the idea of maximum disclosure of information, saying:

  1. Contracting information made available to the public shall be as complete as possible, with any exceptions or limitations narrowly defined by law, ensuring that citizens have effective access to recourse in instances where access to this information is in dispute.

The principles also stress the need for public participation, with statements such as:

  1. Governments shall foster an enabling environment, which may include legislation, that recognizes, promotes, protects, and creates opportunities for public consultation and monitoring of public contracting, from the planning stage to the completion of contractual obligations.

The open contracting principles do not address rationales for not disclosing information.

A “guide” on the OCP website, prepared for those monitoring contracts, warns that nations may withhold information. Bids might the kept secret until later to encourage bidding, the guide says, and information may be withheld to protect commercial secrets or national security.

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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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