Submission to World Bank consultations on information disclosure - June 19, 2003

Disclosure Policy
Room U-11-003
World Bank
1818 H Street
Washington, DC, 20433

Halifax Initiative submission to consultation on draft information disclosure policy

“Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest man you have seen. Ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? Then you will find your doubt melting away”.
- Mahatma Gandhi

[T]he right to information must be regarded as fundamental rather than procedural. Access to information is a prerequisite to the exercise of other fundamental rights and freedoms, and without such access our other rights lose much of their meaning. Information is power. Concealing information can lead to the abuse of power. As well, information is essential for a working, participatory democracy. The citizen’s ability to participate depends directly upon the amount of information at his disposal.

- Canadian Bar Association, Freedom of Information in Canada: A Model Bill (March 1979), p 6.

The Halifax Initiative is a Canadian coalition of development, human rights, environment, labour and faith groups. We have been working together since 1994 to reform the international financial system and its institutions to achieve poverty eradication, environmental sustainability and the equitable re-distribution of wealth.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on the World Bank’s proposed information disclosure policy, as disclosure is the key to ensuring participation, accountability and efficacy in Bank lending, all qualities given increasingly high importance by the Bank. An enforceable, comprehensive information disclosure policy is the critical enabler for partnership, ownership, good governance and development effectiveness.

Despite efforts to increase disclosure at the Bank through the new policy, surprisingly, whole categories of important information continue to be exempted, namely information related to structural adjustment and sectoral adjustment loans.

We call on the Bank to revise the draft information disclosure, to ensure the timely release of the following documents in draft and final form:

  • all country assistance strategies
  • tranche release memoranda
  • President’s report or memoranda
  • country letter of development policy
  • country policy and institutional assessment
  • HIPC decision and completion point documents
  • minutes of the summaries of Board discussions related to project and adjustment lending.

We also call on the Bank to create the position of an Information Commissioner to ensure compliance with the information disclosure policy.

Structural adjustment lending documents


That the World Bank:

  • require disclosure of draft and final President’s report, tranche release memorandum and documentation related to impact assessment
  • allow governments to remove confidential or sensitive information only if information passes a public interest test or can be shown to have an element of significant harm
  • release past SAP documentation and make reference to new and future lending instruments, such as PRSCs

It is fundamentally unacceptable that documents related to SAPs and SECALs remain secret in the draft information disclosure policy, unless the borrowing government chooses to release them after Bank approval. SAPs have an impact on all of society, relate specifically to government budget processes and yet, the Bank will still not ensure disclosure of President’s reports, tranche release memorandums and project documentation related to the loans. These documents must be debated in parliaments and in the public to ensure efficacy and accountability to public interest.

The Bank can require disclosure as a pre-condition to lending as clearly as it can require access to information on a government’s finances. The Bank needs access to information on government spending and revenue to better assist the Bank to assess/design loan proposals and packages. Similarly, the public needs access to information on loan proposals and packages to better assist the government and the Bank to ensure that these loans will best result in people -centred development. Disclosure of critical documents cannot be left subject to political expediency rather that the public right to know.

We are aware that some borrowing countries fear disclosure of SAP information, assuming it is economically or politically sensitive. Keeping these documents away from the public on the basis of political sensitivity presumes that the public may not know what is good for them or that political longevity is the goal of political office. The rationale that the Bank would not want to release documents due to political sensitivity violates fundamental principles of democracy and participation. The Bank should no longer hide behind these arguments.

In terms of the economic sensitivity of these documents, the prior release of SAP loan documentation negatively affecting markets is highly in doubt for IDA countries and also questionable for middle-income countries. Bank loan agreements are not the sole source of macro-economic information for a country. Similarly, the Bank is not the only organization with the inclination to analyse a country’s macroeconomic and fiscal indicators in a particular way. Therefore, it is unlikely that information contained in Bank documents would in any way disrupt the market.

The proposed caveat that confidential or highly sensitive information be removed if a government chooses to disclose, is also of concern without some further clarification. We would request that the draft policy note states that information be put to a public interest test or be required to demonstrate an element of significant harm. If the information would be of benefit to the public it must be disclosed.

Structural Adjustment documents - past, present and future.

We request that past SAP and SECAL documents be released. These documents are of great public interest as they have shaped a country’s economic development. These documents have been made available to civil society organisations involved in the SAPRI process and have assisted them in understanding the historical context for SAP policies. This transparency needs to be extended to all countries that have adopted World Bank SAP policies.

Part of the rationale for revising the 1993 disclosure policy is that it failed to encompass documents that simply did not exist in 1993. There are new instruments that are being considered by the Bank in 2001 that need to be named and requirements to disclose those documents be required prior to Bank approval in this disclosure policy. Since the Enhanced HIPC Initiative, both Bank and Fund staff have noted publicly throughout 2000 that analysis of the potential poverty impacts of structural adjustment lending is on-going. These analyses must also be named and included in the disclosure policy. Similarly, new instruments such as Poverty Reduction Support Credits have documentation that requires disclosure and should be included in the draft information policy. There also needs to be reference in the disclosure policy to documents that may be developed related to social and environmental impacts of programme and SAP loans.

Project Lending

  • environmental impacts assessments must be translated into the primary language of project-affected people
  • systematic release of factual technical documents
  • release of mid-term evaluations and routinely, project status reports
  • release of draft PADs, aide-memoires, country policy and institutional assessments

The new policy fails to clarify the release of factual technical documents related to projects. In any given project there can be ten to fifty factual technical documents that lay out important details for a project. These documents often illuminate important issues that are tangential to the project in question but nevertheless important. For example, the factual technical documents can include a proposed map for a pipeline, or a plan to combat health problems that may appear in villages that host the construction workers for major infrastructure projects. While the policy now suggests that these documents are to be made available to the public, in practice the documents are released subject to the whim of the project manager at the Bank or the agency in charge of the project in a borrowing country.

The World Bank argues that many documents should not be disclosed to the public because it would affect the “deliberative process”. A closed decision-making process impedes goals espoused by the Bank: those of participation, ownership and partnership. These goals cannot be achieved without timely information disclosure. Disclosure after a decision has been taken does not foster ownership and cannot be expected to satisfy public demands to participate in development decisions. Meaningful “participation” requires access to documents while they are still relevant to the “deliberative process,” not AFTER final decisions are made.

In the new draft policy, the Bank sometimes acknowledges that participation is intended to influence decision-making and it cites the benefits of providing relevant information before the deliberative process is completed. In other parts of the new policy, however, the Bank argues that a document's use during the deliberative process is a rationale for non-disclosure. But it fails to justify how disclosure would impede the deliberative process. Failure to justify this rationale or address the ultimate contradiction between participation objectives and the exclusion of access to decision-making documentation will ultimately discredit the Bank's publicly espoused commitment to participation and partnership.

The Bank argues that the following documents should remain secret because they are part of the deliberative process: draft policy papers, draft Project Appraisal Documents (PADs), aide memoires, project status reports, draft policy papers, and the country policy and institutional assessments.
Draft Policy Papers define the Bank's policies. These papers should be open for public comment before final approval from the Board of Executive Directors. The public nature of the Bank would suggest that its policies are a matter for public concern and thus should be open to a public comment period. Since 1991 the Bank has selectively chosen to incorporate outside expertise in the development of many of its policies. This is an emerging best practice among all MDBs and has most recently been adopted in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

  • Aide-Memoires are reports made by Bank staff when they are engaged in putting together a new project and implementing ongoing projects. Aide-Memoires, or at the very least summaries of Aide-Memoires, provide information related to the ongoing development of a project. It is impossible for project-affected-people to play a monitoring role in partnership with the Bank if these important documents are not publicly disclosed.
  • Effective stakeholder participation in the project cycle requires that the Bank either release Draft PADs or radically improve and more regularly update the composition of Project Information Documents (PIDs). Draft PADs contain all the information relating to a particular proposed investment. The Bank argues that it is unnecessary to release draft PADs because the information is available in the much shorter PIDs. The notion that the PID is the functional equivalent of a Draft PAD is patently false. Draft PADs include detailed information that is normally not included in PIDs such as: the results of public consultation (in Category A projects), key performance indicators, project alternatives that have been considered, the value added of Bank support, the effectiveness conditions, technical information such as maps that actually lay out the proposed affected area, and a list of other technical documents produced for the project. The difference between a PID and a draft PAD for projects with environmental categories other than A is tremendous. Furthermore, PIDs are often not updated to reflect changes in project design and the quality of PIDs is drastically uneven.
  • Country Policy and Institutional Assessments outline the criteria upon which a country's lending levels are established. These documents help the Bank to determine how much money to lend and thus are key to the deliberative process. One important stakeholder that should have access to these documents is the national parliaments that often are the body to determine how much debt to assume in any given year. The CPIA criteria and criteria used by the parliaments ideally would match. The secrecy surrounding this document impedes a country driven development process. Secondly, the Bank is repeatedly requesting civil society to play a monitoring role in order to help the Bank gauge its own development effectiveness. Reportedly, one of the benchmarks for the CPIA is the nature and quality of governance. It is impossible for the public to play a monitoring role without understanding the nature of the criteria used by the Bank or to understand how the Bank incorporates governance into the CPIA.
  • Project Status Reports describe the state of implementation, problems and effectiveness of the projects. These should be disclosed in order to allow stakeholders to monitor the implementation of borrower commitments within a project. Since the conditions associated with loans are publicly available, stakeholders should not be denied access to reports on implementation. These documents are all critical to effective partnership and participation.
  • Similarly, new instruments such as Adaptable Program Lending have documentation that requires disclosure and should be included in the draft information policy.

Lastly, the new policy does not clarify ownership of documents and thus, makes it difficult to understand what documents belong to whom. For example, PRSP documents are not the property of the Bank while the CASs do belong to the Bank. Thus, the Bank can only recommend that the PRSP be shared while it can release the CAS. The policy should clarify ownership and at the same time, not use ownership as an excuse not to disclose. The Bank needs to disclose in order facilitate the gathering of information on which it takes a decision on a particular loan and on future lending. Therefore non-disclosure of country owned documents should impede Bank tranche releases, loan approvals and future lending, as in the non-disclosure of environmental impact assessments for Category A projects.


  • - release of Board minutes or summary of Board discussions that relate to project and adjustment lendin
  • - release of reports from the Quality Assurance Group and the Quality and Compliance Unit

The Board of the World Bank is both a governing body and an oversight body. Provisions within the proposed information policy contradict the World Bank's own commitment to fostering good governance. Transparency has been embraced by the World Bank as a key component to good governance, yet the information policy does not foster transparency in the Bank's own governing Board. Greater transparency of the Board of Directors is needed. The proposed disclosure of the Chairman's Concluding Remarks or Summaries for a limited number of issues is a positive development, but it does not go far enough to address the lack of transparency in Board deliberations. Transparency in the Board requires the disclosure of Board Minutes or the summaries of Board discussions that relate to project and adjustment lending, along with the proposed Chairman's Summaries. It is contradictory for the Bank to require and encourage borrowing countries to govern in the sunshine when it continues to labor in the dark.

The Board fears a loss of candour, resulting in less debate and ultimately poor decisions. We argue that the disclosure to the public will increase, rather than diminish good decision-making at the Board.
The Quality Assurance Group and Quality and Compliance Unit have been established in direct response to stakeholder and shareholder demands yet they are to remain only open to the management. The Bank must reveal for better or worse, reports from these units as important elements to stakeholder involvement and relationships.

Enforcing presumption to disclosure

  • creation of a position of Information Commissioner, supported by access to information officers within Departments.

The Canadian Access to Information law is defended by a non-judicial, independent Information Commissioner. Although imperfect, the existence of this position assists in issues of non-compliance.

We recommend that an Information Commissioner position be created who would report directly to the Board and have the power to order disclosure. If the Bank is in disagreement with the decision of the Information Commissioner then the Bank staff must appeal to the Board. The Information Commissioner should be supported by access to information officers within divisions who would ensure that information which is to be disclosed does so and in a timely fashion.

We strongly recommend that the draft policy that goes to the Board be one that will ensure the highest level of information disclosure.