NGOs Protest Cutbacks in World Bank FOI Effort

6 June 2016

Some 130 organizations have written to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to express concern that the Bank “has significantly downgraded its capacity to pursue a global right to information agenda at a time when the World Bank’s role in this area is needed more than ever before.”

The letter initiated by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre cites six concerns about the Bank’s decision to let go all three of its freedom of information specialists. (See previous report.)

“We are concerned that both the decision itself and the diminished capacity of the Bank to engage on this critically important issue will send the unfortunate message to governments of developing countries around the world that the issue of transparency and, in particular, access to information, is no longer important or a donor priority,” begins the letter.

It is signed by 130 international, regional and national groups, including the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in India, Access Info Europe and Article 19 in London. Other signatories are national groups, such as Transparency International Zambia, Espacio Público of Venezuela, Fundar – Centro de Análisis e Investigación of México, and the Democracy Education Centre (DEMO) of Mongolia. contacted the World Bank for comment the afternoon of June 6, but has yet to hear back.

Negative signal

The letter says the World Bank, through its Access to Information Programme, “has played a key role in the passage and implementation of access to information laws around the world.” It says, “Closure of the World Bank’s Access to Information Programme will not only hinder adoption and implementation of access to information laws but could also engender a reversal of progress.”

Access to information is a goal (Goal 16) in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the letter says. “The World Bank’s decision sends a negative signal in this regard.”

“In the absence of access to information and participation in programmes funded by governments and development partners, including the World Bank, the levels of corruption in Africa and other developing countries will undoubtedly escalate,” according to the letter. ”These efforts require the support of the World Bank’s technical expertise and influence to create maximum impact. The World Bank cannot abandon citizens at this time,” the letter says.

“It is unfortunate,” the groups said, “that in taking away this critical support the World Bank has not consulted civil society.”

The letter points to the Bank’s work on access to information implementation guidelines,” calling them “critical to strengthening both the adoption and implementation of access to information laws.”

“How will the World Bank promote the use of these guidelines without dedicated or expert staff?” the letter asks.

“Should the World Bank decide not to alter its course, we are concerned about the retrospective impact this may have for existing loans and other facilities that incorporate ATI as a trigger, or at the very least a condition of the loan,” says the letter, asking:

Will the decision to downgrade the Freedom of Information Programme have the retrospective effect of negating the ATI element of those deals going forward? Or will those countries still be obliged to report on their progress in ATI? Further who will monitor the progress as the ATI unit is to be disbanded?

The letter concludes:

Mr. President, the fight against poverty is about people. This fight cannot be won without people being able to access information. We strongly recommend that, rather than downgrading the Access to Information Unit, the World Bank should strengthen it so as to be able to continue the important work that the World Bank has been doing in this area.

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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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