As the EBRD revises its safeguard policies, the Aid Transparency Index ranks its commitment to openness and transparency as the weakest in comparison with similar institutions.

The 2013 Aid Transparency Index came out last week and confirmed my suspicion that the EBRD was starting to seriously lag behind other multilateral banks in various areas. For starters it has not escaped the attention of some observers that the new Energy Strategy of the EBRD – about to be approved in November – may not measure up to higher climate standards introduced by the EIB in its new energy policy. And now the Index rating should give the EBRD a push as it drafts its new Public Information Policy (PIP).

The new Aid Transparency Index makes a comparative assessment and ranking of 60 donor organisations, among which are 17 multilateral organisations. The EBRD is the worst among the multilaterals, plain and simple. To quote the report (emphasis added): “Multilaterals: Multilaterals as a group do well in the Index, with 13 of the 17 placed in the very good, good or fair categories. The average overall score for multilaterals (53%) is significantly higher than the overall Index average (33%). […] The EBRD is the lowest ranking multilateral, scoring only 24.5%, reflecting the lack of comprehensiveness in the publication of organisation and activity-level data. The EBRD is the only multilateral agency that does not publish any information systematically in machine-readable formats.”

So officially now, the EBRD is behind the European Investment Bank, with 24.5% and 26.6% respectively, although both European banks are keeping each other company in the 'poor transparency' category. It's worth noting also that both are far behind the African Development Bank's 63.7% in the 'good' category, raising some doubts about the standards they bring to the North African region.

The above ranking is not surprising considering that the EBRD's Public Information Policy is more concerned with confidentiality than it is with transparency. What may be surprising though is just how low the institution has got. While other multilaterals have moved ahead, the EBRD has proudly clung to its 'unique model' of having a so-last-century 'business-sensitive approach' (see page two of the EBRD Public Information Policy (pdf)): "with the majority of its operations in the private sector, the Bank must maintain the confidence and trust of its clients and co-financiers. A business-sensitive approach is necessary to allay concerns about the treatment of confidential information which, otherwise, could affect these partners’ willingness to work with the Bank."

We have heard about the benefits of delegating responsibility of disclosure on clients – another major problem with the current PIP - apparently it improves their corporate and social responsibility (CSR). The problem is that once a project is approved and money is spent, if the CSR of a stubborn client does not get significantly improved, there don't seem to be any repercussions. To start with, the impact of the investment on the client's CSR are far from clear, as reporting on results of projects is practically non-existent: project summary documents contain little information and seldomly get up-dated once the project is approved, while evaluation of projects is anonymised or aggregated.

The problems of transparency and accountability of the EBRD are too deep and wide to cover in a blog post, but you can find more details on information disclosure and public participation in the EBRD's operations in this Bankwatch briefing.

As the EBRD is preparing to publish the draft of its new PIP, the Aid Transparency Index ranking is a loud wake up call. The bank's reputation is at serious risk and things need to change significantly and need to change fast, if the EBRD cares to do better in next year's ranking.