A report released recently by the Centre for Law and Democracy argues that disclosure policies of international financial institutions (IFIs) have forever lagged behind that of national public bodies, and that this should no longer be the case.

Referring in particular to exemptions to the right to information on the grounds of protecting commercial interests, the paper states that ‘extensive practice at the national level demonstrates that a balancing of the public interest in openness […] cannot support the broad exceptions [often] claimed in the IFI policies. Instead, a far more careful calibration of the scope of these exceptions is appropriate.’

Of the commercial interests of third parties, the report recommends that information should only be exempt from disclosure where it would be likely to harm commercial interests, as opposed to allowing by default free exertions of confidentiality by third parties employed by agencies. Such a process at national levels shows that third parties do continue to engage and do business with the public sector.

Ultimately, the report argues that there is no justification for IFI commercial exceptions, that they are problematic, and that there needs to be a recognition that greater openness is possible whilst still protecting relevant interests.

This paper provides food for thought in the light of particular aid transparency commitments made by donor countries at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in December 2011:

“Make the full range of information on publicly funded development activities, their financing, terms and conditions, and contribution to development results, publicly available subject to legitimate concerns about commercially sensitive information.”