WASHINGTON —The World Bank said today that it is on track to begin to implement the first phase of its new policy on Access to Information on July 1, one of several major reforms the Bank has undertaken to increase its effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability.
The new policy positions the Bank as a transparency leader among multilateral organizations. It moves the Bank from an approach that spelled out what information would be made publicly available under the current disclosure policy, to one that enables public availability of all information in the Bank’s possession that is not on a clear list of exceptions, such as staff personal information and deliberative documents.
The new policy provides for much greater access to information about projects under implementation to enable the public to track a project through the course of the project lifecycle.
“The new Access to Information Policy is much more than a simple policy change. It is an enormous cultural shift for the institution, both in terms of how we engage with the outside world and how we view and handle information,” said Jeff Gutman, Vice President, Operations Policy and Country Services.
The Bank will make much more information available on key decisions made during project development and implementation to enable greater awareness of Bank-supported operations and better development results. New information that will be available includes decisions of Project Concept Review meetings, project supervision missions, and mid-term project reviews. Examples of newly available information after July 1 include:
- Minutes of Board Committee meetings
- Chairman’s summaries of Board meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings
- Summaries of Discussion
- Annual Reports of Board Committees
- Implementation Status and Results Reports (portions)
- Audited annual financial statements of borrowers for projects (for which the invitation to negotiate is issued after July 1, 2010)
- Country Portfolio Performance Reviews
- Concept notes and consultation plans for policy reviews that are subject to external consultations
“Experiences of other institutions and countries that have adopted disclosure policies of this magnitude clearly demonstrate that we have a steep learning curve ahead of us, but the Bank is committed to the principle that is the foundation of this new policy – maximizing access to information to improve the quality of the development process,” said Peter Stephens, Chair of the Access to Information Working Group and Director, External Affairs.
In particular, a big challenge for the Bank will be to track down all the historical information that is eligible for disclosure as of July 1, and to handle the anticipated surge in volume of requests until all new systems are completely in place and staff are trained and familiar with how the policy will work in practice. The Bank will continue beyond July 1 to train staff, complete systems upgrades, declassify eligible historical documents and refine workflow processes.
Preparations have been underway since November 2009—when the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved the new policy—to put in place the systems and processes needed for implementation. These include:
- upgrading, enhancing, or creating new information technology systems and improving database usability and user interface for information seekers;
- designing and automating work-flow processes to facilitate the proactive disclosure on the Bank’s external website;
- preparing thousands of historical documents eligible for public disclosure as of July 1, 2010;
- developing a training program and implementation support resources for 10,000+ staff;
- defining a strategy for upgrading and reengineering the public information function and approach to public information provision through in-country public information centers;
- aligning the Bank’s translation framework with the new policy; and
- revising our information classification definitions.
“We have been working with several civil society organizations as we prepare for the policy shift and seeking their input on the complex issue of ‘access’ for different stakeholder groups, particularly those outside capital cities in developing countries, as well as on translations and ways they can help us test the new system and identify any possible unforeseen bottlenecks,” said Marwan Muasher, Senior Vice President, External Affairs.
The new policy, which draws on India’s Right to Information law and the US Freedom of Information Law, also includes a provision that will allow for the declassification of certain types of restricted information over time – after 5, 10, or 20 years – recognizing that sensitivity of the information declines over time. It also introduces the right to appeal.
“A requester can appeal if he or she believes that the Bank has improperly or unreasonably denied access to information that should be publicly available according to the new policy, or when a requester wishes to make a public interest case for disclosure of information that is restricted under the policy,” said Anne-Marie Leroy, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, World Bank Group.
The new Access to Information Policy applies to IBRD and IDA. IFC and MIGA have their own disclosure policies.
The policy is available on line at www.worldbank.org/wbaccess and will be translated into numerous languages including Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Other internal reforms the World Bank is undertaking cover such critical areas as making lending more effective, giving developing countries more say in the institution, placing more staff in developing countries to better support clients in the work of poverty reduction, and providing free and easy access to the Bank’s vast stores of development data at http://data.worldbank.org.
Background and Evolution of the Policy
The Bank issued its first Directive on Disclosure of Information in 1985. The Board of Executive Directors approved the Bank’s first policy on information disclosure in 1993. It has evolved over the past 15 years – the Executive Directors and Bank Management have periodically reviewed the policy and expanded its scope in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005.
The new Access to Information Policy is informed by external and internal consultations held in 33 countries and through the Bank’s external website, which were undertaken from March – June 2009. It reflects the views of member countries, civil society organizations, academia, parliamentarians, media, the private sector, international organizations, donor agencies, and Bank staff.