World Bank Reducing Support for GPSA Fund

7 July 2016

By Toby McIntosh

The World Bank is halving its contribution to the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), a multi-donor fund that supports transparency and accountability initiatives, according to new budget figures.

The Bank’s cutback has particular significance because a top Bank official recently cited the Bank’s support for the GPSA as evidence of the Bank’s continued commitment to access to information (ATI).

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are concerned that the Bank is deemphasizing its support for ATI. More than 130 CSOs signed a joint letter in early June after the Bank eliminated the jobs of the Bank’s three ATI specialists. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report on the Bank staff reduction and a story on the subsequent international CSO protest letter.)

The CSOs found the Bank’s reply vague. (See FreedomInfo.org article on the Bank reply.) They are seeking additional information and have requested a meeting. (See FreedomInfo.org report on the CSOs’ request for more concrete information.)

One point on which clarification is being sought concerns a Bank statement indicated that ATI work is being handled more at the regional level following a review of “the arrangements for the implementation of ATI work programs.” The unamplified statement came in the Bank reply letter from Jan Walliser, the Bank’s Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance & Institutions. Bank officials have declined to provide FreedomInfo.org further details of this review, but have suggesting it was a general one, not focused particularly on ATI.

Walliser also said that ATI work is a component in 20 active operations in Africa.

A FreedomInfo.org review, however, suggests that the Bank is defining access to information broadly. Most of the projects are aimed at improving government’s financial management with budget transparency as an offshoot. None of the cited projects concern passage or implementation of ATI laws.

Bank Cutting GPSA Support

The cutback on support for GPSA from $6 million to$3 million comes despite Walliser’s reference to GPSA as a multilateral effort hosted by the Bank.

The Bank has contributed $20 million over the four-year life of GPSA, with another $13 million provided by five countries and four foundations. The GPSA provides 3-5 year grants of $500,000 to $1 million to civil society organizations to undertake social accountability activities.

Now the Bank has decided to reduce its commitment.

The Bank in fiscal 2106 (which ended June 30) provided $6 million overall to support GPSA: $5 million for programs, and $1 million for the Secretariat functions performed by Bank staff.

In fiscal 2017, the Bank total allocation will be $3 million: $1.5 million for programs and $1.5 million for the Secretariat.

The reduction resulted from a wider Bank “expenditure review,” FreedomInfo.org was told. It’s unclear if other GPSA donors will contribute more.

Historically, more than two-thirds of GPSA”s budget has come from the Bank. A May 2016 report summarizes.

Current financial support for the GPSA rests on the Bank’s USD20 million commitment over four years (2012-2016) together with USD7.8 million of contributions from foundations: Ford, Open Society, Aga Khan and Bertelsmann; bilateral donors contributing USD3.5 million from USA, Finland, Dominican Republic (DR) and Mexico; and USD1.5 million from Global Practices at the Bank.

So with annual budgets running at about $7 million, the Bank’s $3 million cutback for the coming year is significant.

The 23 ongoing GPSA projects in 17 countries focus on accountability and to some extent on transparency within specific contexts, but none appear to directly concern access to information laws or ATI administration. The typical profile involves training local groups to monitor budgets and contracts, to gather and organize information, and to disseminate material.

One recipient was the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), whose director, Gilbert Sendugwa spearheaded the CSO letter to the Bank. The AFIC has a $650,000 grant to improve service delivery in the agriculture, education, and health sector by enhancing accountability and transparency in public procurement in five districts in Uganda. As part of its work, AFIC sponsored a one-day training session on using the national FOI law.

A new crop of nine recipients is in the works, chosen from 500 applicants, according to the March GPSA newsletter.

 

Projects Cited Don’t Cover ATI

“Access to information is part of our portfolio of loans, technical assistance and analytical work,” Walliser wrote the CSOs. “In Africa alone, the World Bank is implementing 20 active operations worth over $540 million that include components or subcomponents that focus on ATI, as well as varied analytical work and technical assistance.” The list was supplied to FreedomInfo.org.

None of the 20 projects in Africa specifically support the creation or implementation of ATI laws, according to a review by FreedomInfo.org of the project documents. Eight of the 19 African countries involved do not have ATI laws.

Instead, most of the projects are designed to improving government financial management and budgeting. Some projects are designed to increase tax revenues, improve audits and modernize procurement processes. The bulk of the funding for the 20 projects goes to improving government systems.

About three-fourths of the projects contain specific components to encourage disclosure of information in specific contexts, mostly about budgets. These components take different forms — preparation of “citizen reports,” creation of more timely audit reports for legislatures and disclosure of local education expenditures, for example.

The transparency components were typically measured with one “indicator.” The achievement of the stated goals appeared spotty and some cases insufficient information was available.

For example, a three-year $50 million project in Mozambique begun in 2014 aims to improve the use of government funds in the health and education areas. One part of the project would give schools additional monies if, adhering to a government manual, they conduct transparent school council elections, cooperatively create school development plans and publicly displaying information on how the use of resources.

The Bank’s “Indicator 3” measures compliance with this goal, but the score remains “zero” because “The first year target of approval and dissemination of the school councils manual has been met,” according to a June 2016 Bank evaluation.

Nature of Bank ATI Review Unclear

The Bank has not expanded on Walliser’s statement that “over the past months” the Bank has “reviewed the arrangements for the implementation of ATI work programs.” He wrote, “Regional units (as compared to central units) now have greater responsibility for supporting country-level reforms including fiscal transparency and ATI.”

Asked to say more about this review, Bank spokesperson Nichole Frost replied:

What ATI review are you referring to?  The letter stated that “we have reviewed implementation arrangements”.  This was part of the regular portfolio review work we do within our management teams.

Asked for more detail, she said, “The Bank’s portfolio includes all of our pipeline, active and closed projects.”

Other Bank ATI Work Not Noted

The Bank did not mention its previous pro-ATI work in various countries, some of which was facilitated by its now-departed ATI experts.

These activities included such things as hiring consultants to help draft ATI laws, which it did in 2012 for Egypt. (The Bank originally denied FreeedomInfo.org access to the draft, then relented.) (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

The Bank at times has pressed governments to pass ATI laws and supported such efforts financially. A Bank spokesman in January 2016 encouraged passage of an ATI law in Malawi. (See Freedominfo.org report.) In Ghana, the Bank in 2011 financed national consultations on draft legislation. (See previous Freedominfo.org report.)

Bank officials “in country” have advocated for ATI, sometimes supported by ATI staff in Washington, but this has been a relatively low-key Bank activity and hard to document.

Also unmentioned by Walliser is the Bank’s work on implementation of ATI laws, a topic relevant to the new Sustainable Development Goals, which the Bank supports. One goal to be measured, by Indicator 16.10.2, is the existence and implementation of ATI laws. (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

A Bank report, “Public Access to Information for Development — A Guide to the Effective Implementation of Right to Information Laws,” was published in June. It was written by Victoria L. Lemieux and Stephanie E. Trapnell. Lemieux until recently was a senior public sector specialist at the World Bank, but was one of the trio of ATI experts whose positions were eliminated. Lemieux is now Associate Professor, Archival Science in the iSchool at the University of British Columbia. Trapnell was a consultant to the Bank for the report and is a PhD candidate in sociology at George Mason University.

The future of the Bank’s implementation project remains unclear.

 

 

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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
1-(703) 276-7748