Toward Greater Transparency through Access to Information

December 23, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC, December 23, 2009 — The World Bank today finalized its Access to Information Policy, which makes the Bank a transparency leader among international institutions. The policy was approved by the Board of Executive Directors on November 17, 2009 and will become effective July 1, 2010. The final text of the Policy paper reflects the comments and requests for clarifications sought by the Board during the November 17 discussion.
“With the adoption of a progressive disclosure policy, the World Bank has set the standard for which the other IFIs should strive as they review their respective information disclosure policies. While we applaud the Bank, it is important to remember that implementation is key; the end goal is improved development outcomes through meaningful civil society participation,” says Chad Dobson, Executive Director, (BIC) the Bank Information Center. BIC is an independent civil society organization that was involved in consultations on the policy.
The new policy represents a fundamental shift in the Bank’s approach to disclosure of information—moving from an approach that spells out what information it can disclose to one under which the Bank will disclose any information in its possession that is not on a list of exceptions.
“The Bank takes access to information very seriously. This new policy means that information will be as accessible as possible. The public will no longer have to specifically request information because we will: make public as much material as possible through our website and country information centers; provide as much as possible automatically; and leave as little as possible to discretion,”
said Peter Harrold, Director, Operations Policy and Country Services (OPCS).
The Bank will now be making much more information available on key decisions made during project development and implementation. 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 scrutiny 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 monitor the use of public funds,” said Jeff Gutman, Vice President, OPCS.
The policy seeks to strike the right balance between maximum access to information and respect for the confidentiality of information pertaining to its clients, shareholders, employees, and other parties.
In order for affected parties, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to review how their feedback has informed the preparation of lending operations and the formulation of Bank policies and strategies more information relating to Board proceedings will now be available before decisions are made. Operational Policy and Strategy papers that are prepared following public consultations will now be disclosed publicly at the same time they are distributed to the Board, rather than after Board decisions have been made, if the Board has previously reviewed a draft (simultaneous disclosure). In cases where the Executive Directors have not reviewed a draft, the paper will still be disclosed at least two weeks before the Board discussion, if the Board approves such early disclosure.
In addition, Country Assistance Strategies, Project Appraisal Documents, and Program Documents will be disclosed simultaneous to their distribution to the Board if the member country consents.

The new policy recognizes that the sensitivity of some information declines over time, and it provides for certain information to be declassified and disclosed after a reasonable period of time has passed—5, 10, or 20 years.
The new policy now also clearly spells out an appeals process for requesters who believe that the Bank has unreasonably denied access to information. This will be a two-stage process. An administrative appeals mechanism under Bank Management will serve as a first level of appeal, and a mechanism independent of Management—a panel consisting of three international experts—will make final binding decisions on disclosure for certain types of appeal.

In order to ensure the effective implementation of this far-reaching policy across the Institution, the Bank is now putting in place the necessary IT systems, enhancements to the external website and public information centers worldwide, and guidelines and training programs for staff.

The policy was informed by extensive external and internal consultations held in 33 countries and through the Bank’s external website. It reflects the views of member countries, civil society organizations, academia, parliamentarians, media, the private sector, international organizations, donor agencies, and Bank staff.

Examples of Newly Disclosed Documents
At the end of Board Proceedings

  • Minutes of Board Committee meetings
  • Summings-up of Board meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings
  • Summaries of Discussion
  • Annual Reports of Board Committees

At other Process Milestones

  • Decisions of Project Concept Review Meetings and Decision Meetings (as part of the initial and updated Project Information Document).
  • Implementation Status and Results (ISR) Reports
  • Key decisions at the end of supervision missions and project midterm reviews (full mission aide-mémoires may be released if the Bank and borrower so agree.)
  • Country Portfolio Performance Reviews.
  • Consultation plan for Country Assistance Strategies (CASs).
  • Concept notes and consultation plans for policy reviews that are subject to external consultations.
Media Contacts
In Washington
Geetanjali Chopra
Tel : (202) 288-9029