November 14, 2003
Friends of the Earth Japan and Mekong Watch
These recommendations have been written as an input for the review of Disclosure and Information Policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
We, Japanese NGOs that have been monitoring negative impacts of the ADB’s operations, have called for greater accountability of the ADB for two reasons.
One is that the ADB is a public institution using Japanese taxpayer’s money, and we have the rights to know the ADB’s operations, from the policy level to the project level. The Japanese government is the top donor to the ADB, and we are especially concerned about how our money is used in terms of the impacts it is making at local level.
The second reason we demand greater accountability is due to the significant influence of the ADB’s operations on the environment and people’s livelihoods in developing countries. While the ADB’s funding, especially for large-scale infrastructure development, have negatively affected local people’s lives, these people have often been excluded from decision-making processes, and they have not had access to important information in the formulation and implementation processes of ADB-funded projects. They are important stakeholders of ADB operations whose rights to access information relevant to their environment and livelihoods is too often neglected. This information should be communicated to stakeholders in forms and languages understandable to local people to facilitate their participation in decision-making processes.
We urge the ADB to incorporate the following recommendations into the new policy to ensure greater transparency and accountability of the ADB, and to promote informed stakeholders’ participation in the ADB’s operations.
We agree with the general principle in the Policy on Confidentiality and Disclosure of Information (the Policy), which stated, “the Bank should instill among its staff ‘a presumption in favor of disclosure of information’ in the absence of the constraints described earlier.” These constraints are clearly defined in the Policy. The Operations Manual (OM) section L3 also stipulates the implementation arrangements for the Policy, including responsible institutions and timeframes to respond to information requests.
However, our experiences with information requests show that the ADB’s responses to information requests are inconsistent, unsystematic, lengthy and unaccountable. The following are several examples of difficulties we have had in requesting information from the ADB.
l Information requests for documents (e.g. Loan Agreements that were signed after 1995 or summaries of Initial Environmental Examinations) were rejected while the Policy and the OM state such documents should be available to the public.
These experiences clearly demonstrate the immediate needs for institutional reforms at the ADB regarding information disclosure requests. A new policy should create an institutional framework containing following components to deal with these requests for information.
Such a body is essential to modern information disclosure mechanisms. Not only developed countries but also some of the ADB’s developing member countries (DMCs), including India, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand, have mechanisms where people can file appeals against decisions of non-disclosure. It has significant importance for the ADB because there is no judicial court where people can file a case against the ADB’s violations on the disclosure policy.
The ADB’s information should be available to all stakeholders. It is important to give due consideration to the needs of project affected people. To enhance the accessibility of ADB documents and facilitate informed participation of affected people, the process of information requests should be very easy to use.
To make this process accessible to affected people, the following reforms are needed.
l Means of requests: Filing of information requests should be allowed by mail, fax, e-mail and hand delivery.
As described above, the ADB’s responses to information requests are unsystematic and slow. There should be a rigid time frame and format for the responses to information requests.
As stated earlier, the current ADB information disclosure mechanism does not have a mechanism to ensure compliance with the Policy. ADB staff have the discretion to classify information as confidential without any scrutiny from outside. The Policy fails to ensure the accountability of the disclosure system of the ADB, even though the objective of the Policy is to ensure the accountability of the ADB. The current Accountability Mechanism accepts complaints regarding violation of the disclosure policy only from those who are directly affected by ADB projects.
It is especially problematic that decisions by the ADB staff cannot be examined by any judicial mechanism. While many information disclosure laws around the world allow requesters of information to file complaints to administrative procedures and to courts, neither way is available for those who are refused access to ADB documents.
As a public institution, the ADB should establish a compliance mechanism for the information disclosure policy. We propose establishing the Information Disclosure Review Panel as stated earlier. Several options of such mechanism should be considered in the first draft of the new disclosure policy.
The current policy lists certain types of the documents that are automatically subject to disclosure. While the list worked well as a baseline for the ADB’s disclosure level, a much wider range of documents should be disclosed considering their importance. Below are some of these documents.
Civil society organizations have been interested in the ADB policy formulations and revision processes, especially concerning safeguard policies and accountability policies. However, the ADB does not have any rules that require such process to be transparent and participatory. As a public institution, the ADB’s policymaking processes are public concerns, and they should be as transparent and participatory as possible.
We appreciate that the review of the Inspection Function involved the most participatory process in the ADB’s history. Three drafts of the policy were released to the public for comments, and 10 consultations were held both in DMCs and donor countries. This precedent should become a standard for good practice in ADB’s policy-making processes.
To facilitate meaningful participation by civil society in policymaking processes, the following documents regarding policy formulations/revisions should be disclosed.
The transparency of the Board of Directors, the decision-making body of the ADB, has been a major concern of civil society organizations. Both proposals for Board approval and minutes of Board meetings have been totally secret. This is our particular concern because once the Board approves policies or projects, it is very difficult for stakeholders to provide the information precisely relevant to the Board’s decision when asking for withdrawal of such decisions.
In most countries, the proposals to and deliberations of the highest decision-making bodies are open to the public. Any bills, budget or other proposals to such bodies are disclosed when they are submitted for approval, and the minutes of the meetings are also public documents. There is no compelling reason why the ADB should not follow this standard of accountability of the highest decision-making bodies.
We also have the right to know how the Executive Director represents our country in the ADB, as taxpayers to the Japanese government.
The ADB’s member countries should immediately address this issue. We propose that the following documents should be disclosed. Section 9 of the “Rules of Procedure of the Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank” should be revised accordingly.
The disclosure of project specific documents has been a particular concern to project affected people and NGOs monitoring the negative impacts of ADB projects. While some project information, including project profiles, summaries and full text of EIA and IEE, RRP and Project Completion Reports are available from the ADB, more documents should be made available to the public. Following are examples (not an exhaustive list) of documents that should be released to the public.
The ADB should make a list of all the types of documents that are produced through project formulation, processing and implementation, and consider whether such documents can be disclosed or not. Such list should be attached to the first draft of the new disclosure policy with proposed classification and reasons for it.
Very limited information is available regarding private sector operations of the ADB. The ADB should adopt at least the same standard as the International Finance Corporation, which discloses Summary of Project Information and environment-related documents.
The issue of language has been a major barrier for project affected people to access ADB’s documents. While affected people have the right to know how projects and polices will affect them and what their rights are under the policy framework of the ADB, they have experienced difficulties in getting such documents in languages they understand.
To facilitate affected people’s informed participation in the decision-making process, a comprehensive policy on translation should be included in the new policy. The following documents should be translated into languages understandable to affected people. Translated documents should be available both on ADB website and at the RMs. The RMs should be responsible for translation of such documents.
|Asian Development Bank
|Developing Member Country
|Environmental Impact Assessment
|Initial Environmental Examination
|Project Preparation Technical Assistance
|Report and Recommendation of the President
|Office of External Relations
|Office of General Council