‘Hold our feet to the fire,’ Bank tells citizens

23/09/2011 | Phil Thornton

The World Bank plans to make public millions of internal documents, as well as to divert funds directly to civil society organizations

The World Bank’s decision to release millions of internal documents will enable people to “hold our feet to the fire”, the new managing director with a mandate for openness has said.

Caroline Anstey told Emerging Markets that the Bank was the first multilateral institution to adopt a freedom of information policy.

She revealed that the Bank plans to divert funds directly to civil society organisations (CSOs) next year for the first time, and will today publish its first ever corporate scorecard to audit its own performance.

The move to open up its databanks, known as Access to Information, will see vast quantities of back data made public that could uncover details of past controversial projects.

“The memos going backwards and forward are going to be released, so I think citizens will have a better chance to hold our feet to the fire – and I think they should,” she said.

Anstey also said that the Bank plans to start allocating resources directly to CSOs as part of a radical reform of the way the development organisation works with more troubled regimes.

The move would be the most significant transformation of the Bank’s funding strategy since it set up the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to lend to the private sector half a century ago.

“If you say that citizens’ voice is a key part of development, then you clearly have to reach out more to citizens,” she said. “In 1944 the bank was set up to lend to governments. We do a lot with civil society but the money goes through governments.

“It is time to say that the not-for-profit part of the world of CSOs is a key part of development, and that we should have some sort of CSO facility where we use bank resources rather than money going through the government to support civil society.”

She added: “We have seen we get much better results on our projects if we involve local beneficiaries that are often civil society groups.”

The project would fund local organisations – rather than the household-name campaign groups that are already well-funded – to provide information and carry out monitoring on bank projects.

The move will require approval by the Bank’s 187 shareholder countries, some of whom might find themselves in conflict over projects. But Anstey – who moved to the openness and accountability role two weeks ago, having been the bank’s external relations chief – played down fears of rows with shareholders.

“When Bank presidents go to countries, they not only meet with civil society they often meet with parliaments. Governments themselves are coming to appreciate the importance of having citizen buy-in.”

The new arrangement “would start small and it would be to build capacity and support local accountability projects,” she said. “We do want to have consultations with our shareholders.”

Meanwhile the Bank will today submit its first ever “corporate scorecard” – an assessment of its own performance – to the Development Committee. It shows that out of almost 50 indicators, only three were rated as “off track”, 25 showed neither decline nor improvement while 20 were “on track.”

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