Report Sees Disclosure Gap on Aid Implementation

15 July 2015

A major weakness of transparency policies at the World Bank and other aid agencies is the lack of information about the implementation of projects, according to a Brookings Institute report.

“What is evident is that there remains a critical gap, especially when it comes to the timely and accessible disclosure of information during project Implementation,” according to “Accessibility and Effectiveness of Donor Disclosure Policies: When Disclosure Clouds Transparency,” by Jeffrey Gutman, a former top official at the World Bank, now a senior fellow in the Development Assistance and Governance Initiative in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings, and Claire Horton, an independent research consultant. Gutman was the vice president of Operations Policy and Country Services at the Bank.

The authors conclude that “disclosure of information on project implementation is varied at best and its accessibility extremely limited for the purposes of local stakeholders.”

Gap Needs to Be Filled

“If the donor community is sincere in wanting to effectively engage stakeholders, not just during project preparation but throughout the project’s implementation, then it is essential that this gap be filled,” they state.

The implementation stage, they say, is a ”critical period —when even the best designed projects can go wrong.” However, they continue, it “has been a relative foundling in terms of available timely information on how a project is progressing, what changes have been made to contract terms and amounts, and whether projects are being executed in accordance with their design and safeguard specifications, leaving a major governance gap in monitoring aid.”

“Moreover, this lack of attention to the disclosure of implementation information is occurring despite the growing evidence that civil society, armed with the necessary project information, can have a substantive impact on effective implementation and results,” they say.

Among its recommendations, the report argues for better targeting information to affected communities. It describes the kinds of information that should be made available.

As an example, they describe the lack of information on the Quito Metro Line One project in Ecuador, co-financed by agencies including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. The project has yet to proceed, and one Bank document points to high risk rating, “Yet there is no discussion of what is happening or the basis for the ratings.” The authors also report, “The IDB does not post any information on this project’s progress or lack of it despite the fact that 2.5 years have passed since Board approval.”

Aid Ratings Faulted

The reports looks at the disclosure of the Bank and other parallel organizations, and critically explores the disclosure criteria of the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency index.

Regarding the international aid ratings, the authors find:

While some of the indicators touch upon project implementation, they do not

call for the level of detail that would be required for effective monitoring by an external stakeholder. As a result, an agency can score “very good” overall without publishing much in the way of information that would allow stakeholders to assess the project during project implementation, the stage of the project cycle that is most vulnerable to problems, jeopardizing the realization of project objectives.”

Concerning the World Bank, which has about 1,600 projects, the report describes gaps in the 2010 information policy reforms. The new policy made available the twice-a-year Implementation Status Report (ISR), but made one section confidential. The ISR reports were redesigned into two sections so that “objective information” about project implementation will be made public, but comments by Bank staff and “detailed risk ratings” would not be kept private. A related document on project implementation, the Aide Memoire, is prepared by a Bank task manager who reviews the project, but is released only with the government’s consent.”

Institutions Assessed

The study looks not only at the World Bank, but at three other development banks and three national aid agencies. Some of the key findings are quoted here.

The African Development Bank “does not yet publish any project implementation information on their website other than basic information on contracts. The implementation progress and results report (IPR) is not disclosed.

The Asian Development Bank “does not disclose project performance reports (PPR) during implementation.”

The Inter-American Development Bank: “The Inter-American Development Bank discloses project information on the project webpages and in the progress monitoring reports (PMRs). The PMRs come in an internal version for management and the public version. The public version of the PMR contains information about disbursement status, project indicators, physical and financial progress of the project, and expenditures. PMRs are disclosed twice a year, but there is currently a backlog because of the new systems that are being put in place. The IDB also discloses monthly operations summaries under their project and operations page, but these just contain a few sentences about each project and a link to the main project document, and nothing on the current status of the projects.”

The report gives fairly favorable reviews to transparency at the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), all of which are covered by national freedom of information laws. “DFID is the only donor that makes contract documents and amendments available on the website,” according to the report.

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Filed under: IFTI Watch

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
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