Late last year, the World Bank Group issued a roadmap on its potential evolution in response to shareholder pressure at this year’s Bank-Fund annual meetings. The roadmap document has been widely shared with member governments. As reported by Reuters and Devex on the basis of leaked copies, it proposes reforms to the World Bank Group’s mission and operations along with increased funding and a significant move into subsidizing the provision of global public goods in middle income economies–a major overhaul. The Bank should publish the roadmap immediately.
For good reason, the World Bank has a disclosure policy that defaults to open. It is an international institution that champions transparency as a tool of good governance, and that should apply to itself at least as much as to borrower countries. The disclosure policy has an exception for deliberative documents and ‘miscellaneous memoranda’ relating to the World Bank Board. That’s maybe reasonable. But the roadmap is about redesigning the institution as a whole, involving decision-making that reaches far beyond board deliberations. As a result, I’m not even sure according to the World Bank’s own rules it should have been kept confidential.
Regardless, the semi-confidentiality of access for a connected minority is the best that can be expected for a document with such wide distribution, and is utterly inappropriate for a multilateral body. The roadmap is about the approach to be taken by a major global institution dealing with global problems using global taxpayers’ money: it is hard to think of a topic that more deserves open, global accountability. And the timing for that accountability is short: the hope is for final agreement by this year’s World Bank Annual Meeting.
Given the important contents and wide distribution, it isn’t surprising the document leaked so widely. One copy ended up with Felix Salmon at Axios, who put it online. But the Bank should still publish a copy itself right now, rather than sometime after Board discussions, and do the same for future papers related to the Bank Group’s evolution. As the roadmap itself suggests, building “consensus in a transparent, inclusive, and consultative manner” will be vital to the process of the Bank’s evolution. The World Bank Group’s board and management should act like it.