EBRD Information Disclosure: Positive Transparency with Areas for Enhancement

by Shoira Olimova, Jocelyn Soto Medallo

During the 2023 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Annual Meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the panel discussions focused on promoting civil society resilience in Central Asia. According to EBRD’s information, more than 100 civil society representatives from 32 countries attended the EBRD Annual Meeting, particularly all the sessions related to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Independent Project Accountability Mechanism (IPAM).

EBRD is considered to be one of the leading banks investing in Central Asia together with the World Bank. From 1 January 2020 to 1 January 2023, the Early Warning System tracked 358 projects totaling 14, 111 billion USD funded by development banks in the region.

The enabling environment for CSOs and communities to engage and meaningfully provide input on investments is restricted for the region. CIVICUS Monitor People Power Under Attack, which tracks civic space and restrictions, stated that Central Asia saw several serious crises where the authorities forcibly cracked down on mass protests and ensuing unrest in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, resulting in significant loss of life and injuries. Across Central Asia, people faced ongoing persecution for criticizing the authorities and standing up for justice, human rights, and the rule of law.

The government’s restriction of the already limited space for civil society affects the ability of groups to freely access information about investments and ultimately, hampers their ability to be meaningfully consulted — let alone voice criticism against a project — without fear of harassment or reprisal. CSOs have expressed facing the shrinking space in terms of independent engagement in the project implementation financed by development banks. Likewise, it is often difficult to obtain information about investments from the government.

It is therefore imperative that, within this context, the EBRD must commit to strengthening the enabling environment for CSOs and communities and disclose timely and accessible information on its investments that support communities’ right to access information.

This commitment must begin with a strong foundation in communities’ right to seek, receive and impart information, as equal partners in development. Having early access to information can mean the difference between a community learning about a project when the bulldozers arrive, and a community engaging with investors to co-design a project that avoids harm and creates real benefits. In practice, the right to information goes far beyond simple information disclosure — it ensures that communities are equipped with the necessary information to substantively engage and participate in the development processes that will ultimately affect their lives and environment.

To this end, the International Accountability Project (IAP) and our partners monitor the online disclosure practices of several development finance institutions through the Early Warning System. This tool enables us to better understand what project information is being disclosed, when it is being shared, and ultimately, how accessible the information is for communities; the purported beneficiaries of development projects. In addition to our previous EBRD analysis, we engaged with the African Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the IDB Invest, (the private sector lending arm of the Inter-American Development Bank), and the United States Development Finance Corporation to share comments and recommendations on their disclosure practices, as part of their public consultations on their respective access to information policies.

We have analyzed the bank’s disclosure practices, to assess the information made available online for potentially-affected communities to access. We share our assessment in the spirit of encouraging robust and people-centered information disclosure policies and practices at EBRD, which reflect leading international standards and best practices.

Assessing EBRD Project Disclosure in Central Asia and South Caucasus

Our analysis tracks the information on EBRD’s website for 158 out of 159 projects disclosed from 1 January 2020 through 31 May 2022 for countries in the Central Asia and South Caucasus region which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. One project wasn’t included in the analysis because the project page wasn’t accessible at the time of desk review. We monitored EBRD’s disclosure practices by reviewing and assessing the information available on each project’s webpage, reviewed in November and December 2022, based on the following criteria, which are aimed at maximizing community access to information. Specifically, our methodology tracks each project with the following criteria:

  • The number of days available for communities to access information before an investment decision is made (also known as the Board date);
  • Whether a summary or overview of potential adverse environmental and social impacts was disclosed;
  • Whether project-specific adverse environmental and social impacts were disclosed;
  • Whether it was specified which environmental and social safeguards were triggered for a project;
  • Whether details were given on how potential harms would be mitigated and prevented;
  • Whether documents outlining plans or systems for addressing risk and identified adverse impacts were available;
  • Whether non-technical summaries of environmental and social impact assessments were available;
  • Whether the full text of environmental and social impact assessments were available;
  • Whether documents outlining stakeholder engagement plans and consultation plans were available;
  • Whether information on consultations, including opportunities for ongoing consultation after Board approval, was disclosed;
  • Whether contact information for the borrower or client was provided;
  • Whether contact information for EBRD’s project leads was provided;
  • Whether information on submitting a request for access to information was provided;
  • Whether information on the Borrower’s grievance mechanism was provided;
  • Whether information on EBRD’s accountability mechanism was provided;
  • Whether project information summaries were available in languages other than English; and
  • Whether any technical documents (not including project summaries) were available in languages other than English.

Strong Disclosure Practices with Room for Improvement

Our analysis of EBRD’s disclosure practices for the period shows that the institution has several positive disclosure practices. These include:

  • Consistently disclosing contact information on filing an access to information request for all 158 projects (100% of the dataset).
  • Consistently disclosing basic information about the independent accountability mechanism for all 158 projects (100% of the dataset).
  • With a few exceptions, project web pages included contact information for the borrower or client, accounting for 145 of the 158 projects (92% of the dataset), though in contrast the EBRD bank lead contact information was not provided for any of the projects (0% of the dataset).
  • The availability of project information in a language other than English was high, accounting for 149 of the 158 projects (94% of the dataset).

Notwithstanding these practices, we found the following substantial shortcomings related to disclosure, particularly for environmental and social risks and mitigation strategies related to projects:

  • Only 32 of 158 projects (20% of the dataset) provided a summary of environmental and/or social risks associated with the project.
  • The full text of environmental and/or social impact assessments was disclosed for only 5 of 158 projects (3% of the dataset).
  • The full list of applicable EBRD environmental and social safeguards was disclosed for only 68 of the 158 projects (43% of the dataset).
  • Environmental management action plans, and similar environmental mitigation plans, were disclosed for only 5 of the 158 projects (3%), despite being referenced in the project webpages for 64 projects.
  • Stakeholder engagement plans were disclosed for only 10 of the 158 projects (6.3% of the dataset), despite being referenced in the project webpages for 21 projects.

The next EBRD’s Annual Meeting will be in Yerevan, Armenia; another country that is known for its aversion towards LGBTQ+ rights and a lack of freedom of expression. Even though the EBRD is doing better in some regards — such as participation and disclosure — it should push more boldly for the respect of basic human rights in the countries where it operates. It can do so through policy-based technical cooperations with the beneficiary governments, and by establishing prerequisites that borrowers — both public and private — must follow to receive funding. The road to human rights-based, community-led development is still murky, but the EBRD is in a good position to pave it nicely.

You can also read the full analysis of Information Disclosure at EBRD in Central Asia and South Caucasus on Bank Watch and the previous analysis on EBRD’s Public Information Disclosure and Engagement.

As is our methodology and in the spirit of working together to increase transparency and access to information, we shared the draft research findings with the EBRD and they provided comments (in full here).

Shoira Olimova serves as the Community Organizer for the South Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Accountability Project, based in Tajikistan. Additionally, she is a member of the EBRD Civil Society Organisation Steering Committee, alongside the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, the Arab Watch Coalition, CEE Bankwatch, Open Contracting Partnership, E3G — Third Generation Environmentalism, Connect Humanity Fund, the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Rise Ukraine, Oxfam, and Save the Children. In this role, she engages in discussions concerning various developmental issues in Central Asia and Europe, including gender, freedom of expression, human rights violations, climate change and environmental concerns, the increasing reliance of EBRD on financial intermediaries, and the lack of transparency within EBRD operations.

Jocelyn Soto Medallo serves as the Deputy Director of International Accountability Project. She is based in the United States.



International Accountability Project (IAP)

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.