THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) that supports infrastructure projects in Asia and the Pacific region is finalising its new public communication policy.
It faces a tough challenge: ensuring access to information to communities affected by the projects it funds. To meet this challenge, the bank will have to do away with its current policy of not disclosing information about projects undertaken by private corporations and agencies it chooses to exempt. Indications are the new policy may not favour such a change.
The ADB has undertaken the compulsory five-yearly review of its public communication policy through consultations in 12 countries. The policy guides ADB’s external relations. Of late, there have been reports from countries about ADB withholding information on projects that affect people’s right to work and their environment. In 2009, only 73 per cent project documents were uploaded on the bank’s website within the timeframe recommended by the 2005 policy still in force.
The first draft of the new policy, released by ADB for public debate, recognises people’s right to information. Some 250 community groups and NGOs from Asia and the Pacific wrote to ADB in the last week of September asking it to lift restriction on information sharing.
“In practice, ADB has not operationalised the public communication policy of 2005 as affected people still don’t get information on projects,” said Leak Kay of Conservation Development of Cambodia, an advocacy group working on accountability policies of banks. “Information on private sector operations is not open unless private sector agrees. This makes the policy ineffective; the new policy should address that,” said Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice, a policy advocacy group in Sri Lanka.
Ann Quon, principal director of ADB’s external relations department, said the bank recognises the fact that the public expects greater transparency. But ADB put the onus of sharing information of projects on governments of countries where it operates. Taking cue, many civil society groups have demanded ADB adopt country-specific right to information legislations like India’s Right To Information (RTI) Act. But then many Asian and Pacific countries do not have such law in place. “So, we are left without any information access mechanism to assess ADB,” said Withanage.
“We will consider international best practices regarding access to information and India’s RTI Act will be among them,” said Quon. He added ADB will disclose or withhold information according to policy requirements.
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