From policy to practice: BIC comments on the 2007 Global Accountability Report

One World Trust’s 2007 report identifies vital accountability standards for global actors. Ratings of policies and systems, however, do not reflect the most critical dimension of accountability: on-the-ground practice. Asian groups disagree with top scores for ADB.

One World Trust’s 2007 Global Accountability Report, launched today in London and via global video-conference, rates the accountability “capabilities” of 30 intergovernmental organizations, transnational corporations, and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Report benchmarks the policies and management systems of these organizations against four vital dimensions of accountability — transparency, participation, evaluation, and complaint and response mechanisms.

Analyzing accountability standards of powerful global actors is a welcome, necessary, and daunting undertaking. Civil society organizations have been actively promoting stronger accountability standards for intergovernmental organizations and transnational corporations for the past two decades. As international NGOs have expanded their power and reach, it is critical for these groups to also enact high accountability standards. One World Trust is to be commended for distilling core principles that cut across these important global sectors.

BIC wishes to express a cautionary note, however, in interpreting the findings of the Report. As we have found in our work on the transparency and accountability standards of international financial institutions, adopting strong policies and management systems is a necessary precondition for accountability, but is not to be equated with actual practice. One World Trust acknowledges this in its Report:

“To make sure accountability happens in practice, though, there needs to be constant vigilance that policy commitments are translated into action and accountability principles and values are embedded within the culture of the organization.”

The Report notes that the high “capability” scores for some global actors, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), have, to a significant degree, been the result of public scrutiny and pressure. The ADB is rated amongst the top three of the reviewed organizations. BIC welcomes the finding that the efforts of civil society and member governments have led to major improvements in the ADB’s accountability framework over the past years. With such a ranking, the ADB now has no excuse not to live up to its policy commitments.

Therefore, it is truly disappointing to note that whilst the ink on the Global Accountability Report is not yet dry, the ADB is about to let down its stellar rating by not upholding a commitment it made during its 2007 Energy Strategy consultations. Responding to civil society demands, the ADB’s Energy Sector Team had promised to publicly post the Stakeholder Comment Matrix as soon as the 60-day comment period ended in July. But almost five months have passed, and there is still no matrix, and rumors are that the finalization of the Strategy is only days away. This is but one example of the deep cleft that often exists between policy and practice at the ADB.

Many Asian groups – such as the NGO Forum on the ADB, Urban Research Center (India), Yayasan Duta Awam (Indonesia), and Focus on the Global South – have taken issue with the high ADB scores in the Report. Notes Mushtaq Gadi of the Pakistani NGO Mauj which had filed but eventually withdrew an external complaint with the ADB regarding the Chashma irrigation project: “It was sheer absence of transparency and manipulation of [the] accountability claim which caused the Chashma claimants to withdraw from their inspection request.”

BIC agreed to review and comment on the Global Accountability Report as part of its launch. We commend the Trust’s initiative to distill core accountability principles for powerful global actors. However, a misreading of the Report’s findings could lead to complacency. We call on rating organizations like the One World Trust and powerful global actors such as the ADB to monitor the most critical measure of an accountable institution: its practice.

View One World Trust’s 2007 Global Accountability Report

For independent views on ADB’s practice, browse BIC’s Asia region pages and visit NGO Forum on ADB.

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