Secrecy at the World Bank: Journalists Call for Open Government

MThe International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest organisation of journalists, today called on the World Bank to follow its own policies of good governance and open up its own work to greater public scrutiny.

In a letter to World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, the IFJ says that current restrictions on access to information keep hidden from public view many vital documents that explain Bank policies. "Without the release of these documents, journalists cannot adequately fulfill their responsibilities to inquire and subject public bodies to scrutiny," says Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ criticises a new disclosure policy that will keep important materials secret. In particular, documents about Bank structural adjustment loans, even though they often contain specific prescriptions for change. Access to this information will remain at the whim of borrowing governments with the result that disclosure will be "subject to political expediency rather than the public right to know."

The IFJ also takes the Bank to task over its failure to mandate the release of all Country Assistance Strategies, one of the broadest policy-setting documents.

"Taken as a whole, the policy shortcomings are particularly unfortunate because the Bank often extols the virtues of transparency when attempting to encourage principles of good governance," says the IFJ. "There is no place for unnecessary secrecy in Government and the World Bank should be setting standards that others will follow."

The IFJ challenges the Bank's Board of Directors to disclose archived materials after five years, not after 20 years, as proposed in its new policy and also to release minutes of its meetings or the summaries of board discussions. "Such an approach should be a basic tenet of good governance", says the IFJ.

All Bank staff should act in accordance with the principle that the first rule "should be in favour of openness, not secrecy." Above all, the challenge to the World Bank is "to discourage secrecy and to promote informed debate," says the IFJ.