World Bank Unveils New Transparency Initiative

July 26th, 2011

Last week, the World Bank unveiled a major initiative to make their funding more transparent.  Through the new World Bank Finances portal, vast amounts of information about the inner workings of the Bank’s finances are now made easily accessible.  This includes information about specific funds that members are supporting, and the disbursement and repayment status of thousands of projects around the world.  Tools are provided to allow members of the public to comment on specific elements of the data, as well as to download datasets specifically catered to their needs.  The data is remarkably up-to-date, often covering information as recent as June 2011.

This is certainly a major step forward in improving transparency and effectiveness in foreign aid.  By making the amounts of aid devoted to specific projects immediately accessible, anti-corruption advocates will have more information to help ensure aid is being spent effectively and not being diverted by corrupt officials for personal gain.  It also provides tools for ensuring that members donating to the Bank’s various funds live up to their promises and meet their funding commitments.

Calls for improved transparency and an increased focus on aid effectiveness have been a major goal of U.S. Senator Dick Lugar, one of the main advocates for changing the culture at the World Bank and similar institutions.  Last March, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where Lugar is the ranking member, released a report, titled “The International Financial Institutions: A Call For Change,” focused on the effectiveness of the World Bank and its regional counterparts, noting:

Nearly all the IFIs suffer from a ‘‘pressure-to-lend’’ culture that places more emphasis on signing project agreements and getting loans out the door than on actually improving the development level of the borrowing country. There must be a systemic re-orientation to focus on outcomes instead of outputs. That will require putting in new incentive structures within the banks and new evaluation mechanisms.

While this initiative alone is not enough to guarantee that the World Bank has truly shifted its central focus from solely lending to truly promoting development, it is certainly a praiseworthy step and a valuable tool for transparency advocates around the globe in holding both developing countries and the Bank accountable for corrupt activities.

Written by Dan Hennessey

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