Civil Society to the World Bank: Adopt Transparency 2.0

Co-authored by Rebecca Harris

The Bank Information Center, along with several other civil society representatives from across the globe, participated in the Washington, DC round of consultations on the World Bank's Policy on Disclosure of Information as part of the 2009 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF. The consultation consisted of a brief presentation by the World Bank on their recently released approach paper entitled "Rethinking the World Bank's Disclosure Policy" followed by a Q & A session with civil society representatives.

Civil society raised several key points throughout the three-hour consultation regarding third party veto for information disclosure, the importance of an external appeals process for unduly denied information requests, the need for the Bank to adopt a "harm test" process when considering exceptions to disclosure, among other issues.

One focal point of civil society's concerns was related to translation of World Bank documents. While the Bank did provide simultaneous translation services for the DC-based consultation, access to information in-country is often blocked by language barriers. When addressing the World Bank panel on Saturday, one Mexican colleague insisted that "it is inexcusable to claim that the cost of translation is the problem when the World Bank is loaning millions per project!" This sentiment was further underscored by a civil society colleague working on the Middle East and North Africa when she exclaimed that "the right to know is only available to those who speak English!"

Additionally, the disclosure of deliberative documents and the issue of Board transparency were highlighted by civil society. One representative claimed that the Board is currently shrouded in a "blanket of secrecy," keeping citizens from tracking the opinions of their own governments. Both the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. Federal Reserve conduct open meetings, and it is not unreasonable to expect the World Bank to do so as well. Moreover, various civil society groups reiterated the need for disclosure of deliberative World Bank documents, especially those relating to the Development Policy Loans. Without access to such documents, civil society is unable to provide meaningful input before the conditions of a loan are approved.

Implementation of the information disclosure policy was a key concern as well. One NGO representative inquired about the budget applied to the Bank's information disclosure efforts, specifically, how much funding would be allocated for the PICs (Public Information Centers), translations, training of staff in country offices, as well as the proposed appeals mechanism. A well written disclosure policy without the necessary funding to properly implement would be purely aspirational.

Information disclosure was one of many topics addressed during the World Bank's Civil Society Policy Forum. Climate change took center stage as the subject of the Bank's upcoming 2010 World Development Report. Both the Inspection Panel and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) spoke to accountability within the various arms of the World Bank Group. The financial crisis and G20 outcomes also played a prominent role in this year's Spring Meetings.