By FUNMI FALOBI.
Freedom of Information (FOI) advocates in Africa, supported by their counterparts around the world, are asking for a reversal of the decision by the World Bank to downgrade its access to information programme.
In a letter by the Working Group of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) to the World Bank’s President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, endorsed by over 130 other national, regional and international organisations in Africa and other parts of the world, the FOI advocates noted that “both the decision itself and the diminished capacity of the Bank to engage on this critically important issue will send the unfortunate message to governments of developing countries around the world that the issue of transparency and, in particular, access to information, is no longer important or a donor priority.”
The Chair of the APAI Working Group, Ms Gabriella Razzano, said in a statement that the letter to the World Bank was only the first step in a series of measures planned by the advocates to get the World Bank to reconsider the decision.
It will be recalled that the World Bank recently closed its Governance and Inclusive Institutions (GII) unit and some of GII positions were transferred to other areas of the Bank. In the process, the Bank’s freedom of information-related work was also eliminated ostensibly because of a desire by the bank to increase traditional project lending.
Calling on the Bank to reconsider the decision, the FOI advocates noted that the World Bank, through its Access to Information Programme, has “played a key role in the passage and implementation of access to information laws around the world,” adding that “in Africa, where the process was slow, the active support of the World Bank to governments and civil society organisations has resulted in the fast tracking of adoption of access to information laws from five countries in the 2010 to 18 in 2016.”
They contended that the closure of the World Bank’s Access to Information Programme will not only hinder adoption and implementation of access to information laws but could also engender a reversal of the progress already made.
The organisations also observed that in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Bank and other development agencies will be providing developing countries with loans and grants, arguing that “the need for citizens to access information on development financing and locally generated revenue is vital for the attainment of the SDGs” and that the bank’s decision also sends a negative signal in this area.
According to them, “in the absence of access to information and participation in programmes funded by governments and development partners, including the World Bank, the levels of corruption in Africa and other developing countries will undoubtedly escalate.”
Urging the World Bank not to abandon citizens at this time, the organisations argued that by accessing public information and monitoring development projects, citizens are able to hold governments accountable and to contribute to the realisation of development outcomes, adding that such efforts require the support of the World Bank’s technical expertise and influence to create maximum impact.
The organisations reminded the bank that over the past few years, multilateral institutions have moved towards being more inclusive of citizens in governance through initiatives like the SDGs, Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), Open Government Partnership (OGP) and Open Contracting, African Union Agenda 2063,among others, and that through various consultations, civil society organisations and citizens have contributed to the formulation and shaping of the character of these initiatives.
They insisted that the “World Bank’s role in standard setting on key transparency and integrity initiatives in development programmes has been unparalleled” and that at a time when discussions on SDG indicators on access to information as set out in Goal 16 target 10 are high on the global agenda, the bank’s leadership and expertise is needed.
The organisations told the Bank’s President that “the fight against poverty is about people. This fight cannot be won without people being able to access information. We strongly recommend that, rather than downgrading the Access to Information Unit, the World Bank should strengthen it so as to be able to continue the important work that the World Bank has been doing in this area.”