July 1, 2010 — Today the World Bank’s new Access to Information Policy takes effect, making more information available to the public than ever before, particularly on Board actions and projects under implementation.
The policy, approved by the Board of Executive Directors in November 2009, is a sea change for the Bank and has already been recognized within the development community as a fundamental shift in approach that sets a new standard for international organizations. It is broadly based on information laws adopted by India and the United States.
“This new policy constitutes a major shift in the Bank's approach to information disclosure, transparency, sharing of knowledge, and accountability,” said Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank President. “The public will now have access to a much broader range of information than ever before, particularly information about projects under preparation and implementation and the Board's actions.”
Together with a range of reforms already under way – from boosting the voting power of developing countries on its Executive Board to providing free access to its stores of development data through its Open Data Initiative – the new policy makes the Bank an even more effective partner to developing countries, other international agencies, and civil society organizations (CSOs) by making its operations more open, transparent and accountable.
Shift in Approach
Under the new policy, the Bank moves from an approach that spells out what information it can disclose to one under which the Bank can make public any information in its possession that is not on a clear list of exceptions. Much more information will be made available on key decisions made during project development and implementation, for example. These include decisions of project concept review meetings, project supervision missions, and mid-term project reviews.
This enhanced transparency and accountability will allow for greater monitoring of Bank-supported projects, thereby enabling better development results. In addition, the Access to Information policy will make information more accessible to the general public, providing an opportunity to better track use of public funds.
Types of information on the list of exceptions include: personal information; communications of Executive Directors’ offices; proceedings of the Ethics Committee; information subject to attorney-client privilege; information that would compromise security and safety; information provided by member countries or third parties in confidence; corporate administrative matters; deliberative information; financial information; and information restricted under separate disclosure regimes (e.g., Independent Evaluation Group, Inspection Panel and Integrity Vice Presidency) and other investigative information.
Thousands of Documents Available
The Bank has already released more than 17,000 historical documents from its archives, which are now accessible on the Bank’s website. These materials include final documents on economic and sector work, sector reports, implementation completion reports and project completion reports, staff appraisal reports, technical annexes, and country assistance strategies dated before July 1, 2005, as well as President’s reports and memoranda dated before July 1, 1990.
Most Bank information can be accessed on its website, and at more than 100 Public Information Centers around the world. The site links to a new tracking system that will automatically assign a case number to a request and will track and flag that request to the appropriate unit for response.
Under the new system, the Bank will acknowledge receipt of a request within five working days and will normally provide a comprehensive response or, depending on a complexity of the inquiry, the status of the request within 20 working days.
The new policy also introduces the right of appeal should a requestor believe that he or she has been improperly or unreasonably denied access to information that should be available under the new policy , or that there is a public interest to override certain policy exceptions that restrict the information requested.
The policy was informed by external and internal consultations held in 33 countries and through the Bank’s website. It reflects the views of member countries, civil society organizations, academia, parliamentarians, media, the private sector, international organizations, donor agencies and Bank staff.
Information Appeals Panel Named
As part of its new Access to Information policy, the Bank has established a three-member, independent Access to Information Appeals Board. The Board plays a critical role in the process that enables parties to file an appeal if their requests for information have been denied by the Bank.
The Board will serve as the second and final stage of the appeal for claims that allege the Bank has unreasonably or improperly denied access to information that it would normally disclose under the policy.
Appeals Board members, whose two-year appointments begin July 1, 2010, are: Wajahat Habibullah, Daniel J. Metcalfe and Olivier Schrameck.
Habibullah is currently the Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission of India, and is an established expert in the area of access to information.
Metcalfe is currently an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law, American University. He has both government and legal expertise in freedom of information issues. Mr. Metcalfe served in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy from its founding in 1981 until his retirement from government service in 2007. He is currently the Executive Director of “Collaboration on Government Secrecy,” a non-partisan academic project devoted to the study of government openness and secrecy.
Schrameck is currently the President of the Conseil d’Etat’s Reports and Studies Section, and is a prominent magistrate of the supreme Administrative Court in France, the French Council of State. He is a renowned expert in matters of legislative drafting, public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil liberties and human rights.