Publish What You Fund Brief Submission to the Consultation on the World Bank Approach Paper on Disclosure
1. Publish What You Fund welcomes the ‘paradigm shift’
Publish What You Fund welcomes the World Bank’s effort to clarify and revise the disclosure policy as well as the process of consultation. The move away from a positive list of documents to the presumption of disclosure is an important reform. There however are a number of areas, set out below, which we believe should be developed or addressed in the policy to derive the maximum benefits from the reform’s the World Bank is undertaken.
2. Making the case for greater transparency
The policy would benefit from a clearer and more extensive articulation of why great levels of disclosure by the World Bank are important. Specific issues we believe should be used to frame the policy include:
- Right to information: The current approach appears to be implicitly based on a making a freedom of information case for great transparency (right of the public and responsibilities of the institution). However this should and could be more overtly stated, including the basic issue of the World Bank coming in line with basic standards of freedom of information approaches of many of their donors and client governments.
- Effectiveness of resource use: The public policy case for greater transparency does not appear to be part of the current approach. Making this case is not only fundamental to strengthening the case for reform, but also has implications for how and what is disclosed. This includes links between proactive disclosure of aid information and the coordination between donors as well as recipients, the ability of recipients to programme their own resources to best effect, ownership and accountability, etc. Additionally, there is an agenda around the reduction information asymmetry needed for more effective decision making by a whole range of actors which should be set out.
- Delivering on commitments made by the World Bank: There are clear areas where this policy needs to be linked to other commitments made by the World Bank. Specifically this concerns obligations in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action concerning predictability and transparency and the International Aid Transparency Initiative as a mechanism for delivering on those commitments.
3. International Aid Transparency Initiative membership
How the disclosure policy relates to the Bank’s involvement in the International Aid Transparency Initiative is about delivering on Accra commitments and transparency being a precondition for a more efficient use of Bank, other aid flows, and recipient’s own resources.
As one of the world’s largest and most influential donors the World Bank should be playing a leading role in International Aid Transparency Initiative. Whilst a signatory, the Bank’s engagement levels should be enhanced. The disclosure policy is a crucial to delivering the Bank’s ability to engage effectively in the International Aid Transparency Initiative as well as the broader aid transparency reform agenda. The policy needs to be designed to facilitate that engagement. As such it needs to include issues around:
- Greater emphasis on proactive disclosure of key types of information (see Publish What You Fund Principle 1 attached and the International Aid Transparency Initiative Scoping paper, also attached).
- The ‘quality of disclosure’ including issues around accessibility, timeliness and comparability. (Publish What You Fund Principle 2, see Scoping paper pages 18-20).
- A shift to discussions of types of information rather than lists of documents.
4. Exemptions to the presumption of disclosure
The exemptions are too broad and ill defined. While mention is made of the importance of basing the categories of information that are exempted from the presumption of disclosure on potential harm to specifically defined interests, this is not reflected in the list and discussions of documentation provided.
- Why is Board documentation excluded? This is basic governance information and is entirely unclear what potential harm, to whom, justifies a presumption of non-disclosure.
- IBDR clients’ CPIA scores – the World Bank is not a ratings agency and the markets are well aware of this. There is no reason to think they would be particularly moved by such information disclosure.
- Client veto and third party exemptions – these debates appear to have been rehearsed and resolved under previous IDA Development Policy Lending related disclosure improvements. There appears to be a risk that as currently formulated the policy might back from those norms. It is unclear why World Bank operations that are either sectoral investment programming or to middle income lending should be dealt with differently. For client veto in particular clarification, evidencing and justification is needed about the precise nature of the concerns of recipient governments.
There is an additional concern regarding client and third party exemptions. The proposed secrecy standards for the fee for service activities match those of the private sector. These are justified by being on the same competitive footing. Not only is this wholly inappropriate for a public institution, but given the ‘client privilege’ justification for material not being disclosed to other providers, actually raises the potential for uncompetitive practices by the Bank. Full disclosure would of course eliminate that risk.
5. Implementation of the policy
Clarity around and a commitment to transparency of the implementation plans related to the policy appear to not have been made or developed as yet. We look forward to receiving these assurances and plans.
6. The Global Transparency Initiative’s Model Policy
Publish What You Fund also endorses and commends the Model policy prepared by the Global Transparency Initiative.