World Bank Official Agrees to Meet With ATI Community

10 October 2016

By Toby McIntosh

A top World Bank official promised Oct. 7 to meet with representatives of the access to information community early in 2017 to discuss World Bank activities in the ATI area.

The Bank remains committed to ATI, with regional and national Bank offices now taking the lead, said Debbie Wetzel, Senior Director of the Bank’s Governance Global Practice. She spoke at a session during the three-day CSO Policy Forum held in advance of the Bank’s fall meetings.

Wetzel was responding to concerns by civil society organization organizations representatives that the Bank is de-emphasizng ATI efforts. The Bank earlier this year eliminated the jobs of three veteran staffers in Washington who worked on ATI advocacy. (See FreedomInfo.org article.)

Edetaen Ojo, Director of the Media Rights Agenda in Nigeria, appealed for the Bank to send a strong message of commitment on ATI following its “extremely illogical” decision. He said Bank must incentivize and support national ATI activity.

At an open forum Oct. 5, Bank President Jim Yong Kim Oct. 5 dodged Ojo’s question about ATI. Kim said the Bank never had “an access to information unit” and so could not have closed it. Kim said the Bank is “completely committed” to ATI. (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

Wetzel’s pledge to meet with ATI activists answered one of the follow-up questions by the 130 CSOs who wrote the Bank in June to protest the cutbacks, but never got a reply. (See FreedomInfo.org articles on the first and second CSO letters.)

The CSOs also had asked for more details on the Bank’s ATI strategy and Wetzel provided some additional information.

Wetzel largely repeated the Bank’s initial reply, saying that ATI activities would be handled by regional Bank staffers working on governance issues, stressing that they have the advantage of local contacts and knowledge. (See FreedomInfo.org article.) She said the subject of ATI will be a part of “governance boot camps” held for members of the Bank’s open government solutions group.

Amplifying in a number of ways, Wetzel:

  • Invited CSOs to tell Bank staffers about “opportunities” in the field related to ATI.
  • Suggested that Bank staff can monitor ATI law implementation. She said, “We can ask our team members in the field, who have the closest sense of what’s going on, to be able to monitor implementation of the programs and then we will come back and take stock and have a sense.”
  • Said that ATI can be a component of Bank loans.
  • Said that the Bank may hire consultants for specific ATI-related tasks as needed, maybe even contracting with the three departed ATI staffers, who have found other jobs.

Wetzel stressed the value of involving Bank staff within countries and of “re-engaging” country directors on ATI, saying they understand the wider national contexts. “Our job at center” is to make sure regional staffers have knowledge about ATI, she said.

The Bank’s letter to the CSOs said the Bank had “reviewed the arrangements for the implementation of ATI work programs.” The CSO’s asked to see the strategy, but Wetzel indicated that there  isn’t a specific Bank plan of action on ATI.

A Wetzel aide advised FreedomInfo.org that in Bank parlance “strategy” is a word with specific meaning because strategies are Board-approved. Wetzel said it was not possible to develop a formal strategy for every slice of governance activity.

Wetzel did not address the specific reasoning for the staff reduction, but said that the Bank had faced significant budget cuts. She said: “ATI is part of a broad set of activities that we work on. It is not our desire or plan to shut down ATI in any way. So we plan to continue work on it.”

“We have about 46 active projects that have ATI components,” she said, a new statistic.

Wetzel praised the “great work” of former Bank staffer Victoria Lemieux on measuring ATI implementation, displaying a printed copy of a report issued this year. She said it would be part of the Bank’s knowledge base. The implementation of ATI laws is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but the specifics of measurement are still be developed. (See latest Freedominfo.org article.) Wetzel did not address whether the Bank will continue Lemieux’s work and participate in international SDG discussions concerning the ATI indicator.

In her invitation for country-specific suggestions on ATI, Wetzel said:

One of the most useful things you guys could highlight to us is that when you see an opportunity in country, of sort of a critical base that’s building around ATI issues, it is important to let us know that. Because we can get to out people on the ground and say there’s an opportunity here, let’s see how we can maximize that.

In agreeing to a meeting, she said:

What I can commit to is, come early in the next calendar year, so January, February, March of 2017, we would be happy to sit down with the ATI community and share where we are and have a discussion of how ATI fits into the set of activities we are doing and hear from you your perspective on does this meet the needs that you think are out there for the role the Bank can play. One of the difficulties that I face as the head of this practice is we can’t be all things to all people, so the question is how can we be what’s needed for the right issue for the right moment, to really make that critical difference.

(The author of this article also was a speaker at the forum.)

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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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