Disclosure: the World Bank is a funder of Global Integrity.
Freedom of information (FOI) laws are a good thing, but it’s difficult to tell how well they work (see this ongoing project that aims meerly to catalog the FOI evaluation work being done). But the World Bank’s Doing Business project is poised to make a major dent in this information gap, with a pilot project that tests transparency around asset disclosure measures, using peer-reviewed, in-country research teams.
Global Integrity has argued for this approach for some time now, so we’re happy to have the Doing Business project’s considerable international reach thrown behind it.
A predecessor of this effort is the work of Dr. Monica Dorhoi, a World Bank researcher who conducted rigorous reviews of the legal codes addressing asset disclosure, FOI and conflicts-of-interest regulations about two years ago.
The Doing Business project’s official transparency page is here, however they offered more detail about the methodology at a seminar in Washington today. Global Integrity’s Afroza Chowdhury was there.
The Doing Business project’s Transparency assessment methodology is very similar to Global Integrity’s approach. Their assessments are based on the presence/absence of asset disclosure laws; they also try to gauge how effective they are in practice. Their assessments, like Global Integrity’s, go into a great deal of detail, hence being more ‘actionable’ and enabling people to identify entry points to strengthen the system.
Instead of relying on outside sources for their information they will use in-country team members to carry out the research themselves — making the data “original” and more reliable. Local field teams research the constitution and laws to see if there is a legal framework that mandates the disclosure of assets, liabilities, gifts etc for members of parliament. The data is collected on this questionnaire (PDF).
Once the data is collected, the Doing Business Transparency team seeks the help of government agencies, NGOs and law firms, in respective countries, to double check that they have the correct information and to make sure they have not missed anything.
A different questionnaire is prepared to assess how easy/difficult it is in practice to attain asset disclosure documents. The questionnaire takes into account how long citizens have to wait to access the documents and other barriers they may face during this process. Again, in-country team members attempt to access such asset disclosure documents. Their experiences inform the questionnaire results.
They have gone one step ahead of the de jure & de facto methodology of assessing transparency, by looking at whether specific information about the value of assets and other identifying information (such as location and source of income, assets, gifts etc) is available. They try to map out whether disclosure of such information is legally required, and who the disclosure is made to: a national registrar, the public, or both; they also assess how effective such legalities are.
We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this work.