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EU development bank's public information policy still problematic, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Submission on EBRD Disclosure Policy

In December 2007, the Global Transparency Initiative (GTI), of which ARTICLE 19 is a founding member, provided a Submission to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on its Public Information Policy (PIP), as part of a consultation aimed at reviewing the PIP. The Submission highlights the failure of the PIP to establish a true presumption in favour of disclosure, as well as a number of specific areas where more openness is needed.

The EBRD undertook a review of its PIP in 2006, and adopted a new policy in May of that year. ARTICLE 19, along with other members of the GTI, were critical of the new policy, which introduced only limited changes over the previous version, and, largely as a result of such criticism, the EBRD has agreed to undertake another review of the policy in 2008.

The Submission highlights two types of shortcomings with the PIP. First, it fails to establish a true presumption in favour of disclosure despite the statement in paragraph 1.1 "that, whenever possible, information concerning the Bank's operational activities will be made available to the public in the absence of a compelling reason for confidentiality". Instead, it largely consists of a list of documents that the Bank will disclose, a sort of publication list. The 2006 Policy did not even include a process for making requests for information, although this was addressed in late 2006. A number of structural problems remain. The regime of exceptions is seriously overbroad. Many exceptions do not require a risk of harm to a protected interest and there is only a very weak override to allow for disclosure where this is in the overall public interest. The PIP gives third parties who provide information a veto over the release of that information and all documents intended for internal purposes or classified by Bank staff are exempted from disclosure. Equally serious is the lack of any independent appeal against refusals to disclose, although an internal appeal to the Secretary General has been added to the Policy.

The Submission also notes a large number of specific areas where greater openness is needed, such as in relation to the Board, a staff directory, consultations on policy reviews and project-related information, including on the environment.

ARTICLE 19 urges the EBRD to fulfil the promise in paragraph 1.1 of the PIP by substantially revising it to establish a true presumption of openness.

The analysis is available at: http://www.ifitransparency.org/uploads/EBRDcomments.rtf and at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/ebrd-info-policy.pdf

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

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