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World Bank Revises Disclosure Policy

The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors has approved revisions to the Bank's policy on the disclosure of information, making changes that will bring greater transparency and accountability to the Bank's support for the development process. The revisions provide for the release of a greater number of project-related documents; disclosure of the Chairman's summaries of Board discussions on Country Assistance Strategies (CASs) and Sector Strategy Papers (SSPs); and a more systematic approach (with a reduced lapse of time) to accessing Bank archives. The Executive Directors also endorsed steps that will lead over time to substantial improvements in access to information through Bank offices in developing countries.

The revisions build on the Bank's ongoing efforts to make information more available. In 1993, the Bank expanded the types of documents that are made available to the public and established Public Information Centers (PICs) in Washington and several other countries to make these documents available globally. The implementation of the Bank's disclosure policy was strengthened following staff reviews in 1995 and 1997. 

Further steps to expand transparency included the release of Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) documents at decision and completion points (July 1998) and preliminary points (January 2000), CASs (August 1998), Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and Joint Staff Assessments (with the IMF) of them (April 2001), Chairman's Summings Up of Board discussions of PRSPs and HIPC documents (April 2001), papers prepared for IDA Deputies during replenishment negotiations (May 2001), and Chairman's summaries of IDA replenishment meetings (May 2001). In all these steps, the Bank has recognized the need to protect confidential and proprietary information provided to it in the course of its operations.

"The revisions to the disclosure policy in August 2001 are an important step in an ongoing, evolving process aimed at improving the Bank's contribution to development," says World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn. "The Bank recognizes that transparency and accountability are crucial to development effectiveness, and will continue to review the provisions and implementation of its disclosure policy on a regular basis in the coming years."

The policy changes were approved after the Bank published its draft review of the policy in September 2000; held extensive consultations to solicit the views of civil society, industry groups, and governments in 21 countries around the world; and provided opportunities for comment through the Bank's website.

Highlights of the updated policy are as follows:

  • Lending documents. The disclosure policy will now permit public access to documentation from the entire project cycle, from preparation through implementation to independent evaluation. Public Information Documents for all operations and Project Appraisal Documents for investment lending have been publicly available since 1994. The new measures allow documentation for adjustment lending to be disclosed as well—both for new operations and for tranche releases. Disclosure of documentation for Poverty Reduction Support Credits will be routine, given that they are based on PRSPs prepared by governments in a highly participatory way. The Bank's Annual Report on the Status of IBRD/IDA Projects in Execution will be upgraded and released to provide more comprehensive, relevant, and timely information on ongoing projects. Implementation Completion Reports will be also available under the updated policy.
  • Strategy documents. Reflecting earlier policy revisions, all CASs for low-income countries that receive concessional funds from the Bank are disclosed, and in FY01, some 70 percent of CASs for middle-income countries were disclosed. All SSPs are also disclosed. Both CAS and SSP disclosures take place after the Bank's Executive Board discusses the documents. Under the new revisions, the Chairman's Concluding Remarks summarizing the Board's discussion of CASs and SSPs will also be made available when the underlying documents themselves are disclosed.
  • Accountability documents. Documents in which the Bank's independent evaluation arm—the Operations Evaluation Department—reviews Management performance in various operational processes will be disclosed, along with the Management Response to such evaluations. Similarly, reviews by Management's own Quality Assurance Group of the quality of key activities such as loan preparation, loan supervision, and economic and sector work will be available.
  • Archives. Until now, the Bank's archived documents have been available only on a case-by-case basis.  Under the updated policy, archived documents will now be publicly available after 20 years. In the case of country documents of types that are now routinely disclosed but were produced under an earlier, more restricted framework, the waiting period will be 5 years.

Effective implementation of the new disclosure policy is crucial. An increase in the number and type of documents that are made publicly available must be complemented by efforts both to protect privileged and proprietary information and to ensure that those affected by Bank operations receive the information in a timely and comprehensible fashion. Guidelines to staff are being prepared to help ensure effective implementation of the changes, most of which will take effect on January 1, 2002.

Further work will investigate options for increasing translation of documents to ensure outreach to affected people, strengthening Public Information Centers, and involving communications experts more effectively in the dissemination and outreach elements of the new policy. Learning pilots, to be carried out with interested member countries, will explore ways for the Bank and governments to provide additional information on CASs and lending operations under preparation and implementation, as a basis for improved development effectiveness.

Useful links: More information on the Bank's disclosure policy is available on the Bank's website.

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