Strange goings-on with the World Bank loan

In April 2011, when the Arab Spring was still in its first bloom, then-World Bank President Robert Zoellick promised to usher in what he called “a new social contract for development.”

“You cannot have successful development without good governance and without the participation of your citizens,” Zoellick said in a speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC. “We will encourage governments to publish information, enact Freedom of Information Acts, open up their budget and procurement processes, build independent audit functions and sponsor reforms of justice systems.”

Four-and-a-half years later, the bank appears to be poised to loan US$3 billion to Egypt without the country making demonstrable progress toward benchmarks like a Freedom of Information Act. In their apparent eagerness to loan money to Egypt, the bank has gone not just abandoned rhetoric about transparency from Egypt’s government. It also seems to be operating strangely, even according to the bank’s own conventions.

The process for Egypt has a number of oddities, explains Amy Ekdawi, regional programs director of independent NGO Bank Information Center.

Virtually all of the information about the upcoming loan — that the first $1 billion tranche is expected before the end of December, that it is part of an expected three-year, $3 billion package — comes from media statements by Egyptian officials. Details from the bank, an institution normally big on paperwork, have been scant.

At this point in the process, Ekdawi explains, you would expect the bank to have released two key documents in both English and Arabic: a Project Information Document (PID) with details about the loan, and a Country Partnership Framework that lays out the basic terms of engagement between Egypt and the World Bank from 2015-2019, including priorities, medium-term strategies and a loan ceiling.

So far, the only document available is the Arabic version of the PID. The English version, if it exists, had not been posted online as of Friday afternoon. Already, this is an indication of a strange process for an international institution like the World Bank, Ekdawi says. “Usually it’s written in English, then translated,” she explains.

Even the Arabic PID is odd, Ekdawi continues. Despite carrying a publication date of November 4 and a disclosure date of Dececember 1, it lacks the polish of a normal World Bank document, which would normally go through multiple revisions before publication, she says.

Among other things, the document is not even stamped “approved for public disclosure,” and generally departs from the normal template.

“There is no title, nothing. It’s very messy. It looks like they were in a rush to post something, they didn’t notice that they posted a draft. I don’t know what happened, I haven’t seen it before with World Bank documents,” she says. “We don’t know if they just didn’t have time to edit it.”

“I don’t know why it’s very urgent for the World Bank and the government to do something,” Ekdawi adds. “There have been many times of economic crisis in the past, and the bank wasn’t in this type of rush. So I don’t know what’s going on internally.”

The Arabic PID contains only the barest details of a proposal. It explains that the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development  will loan Egypt $1 billion to meet three objectives: strengthening fiscal consolidation and debt management, supporting a sustainable electricity supply in partnership with the private sector and creating a better legal environment for business and investment.

“It’s just an explanation; no timeline, no details,” Ekdawi says — although this is consistent with the vague outline in some other PIDS, such as one for a proposed $1 billion loan for Iraq.

The Egypt document closes with contact numbers for two World Bank staffers: senior economist Ahmed Kouchouk and energy expert Ashish Khanna. When Mada Masr attempted to reach the bank on Thursday, an office assistant said both men were out of the country working on the Egypt-World Bank deal, and would not return until December 18. A third expert, Mohab Hallouda, was also out of the office, but might be back Sunday. Until then, the circumstances under which the PID was published, and the fate of the English-language version, remain a mystery.

The absence of the Country Partnership Framework is even more irregular, in part because this means the upcoming loan will be granted within the context of the new framework that, officially, do not yet exist.

“They have been working on the Country Partnership Framework for the last year and a half. It should’ve been out before this June,” says Katelyn Gallagher, a Middle East and North Africa specialist at the Bank Information Center. “It was delayed because of internal World Bank issues, and also problems with government of Egypt. Now, it is due to be approved on December 17.”

The World Bank board of director’s calendar for December shows plans to discuss the partnership framework on December 17. The next item on the agenda is the loan for Egypt.

As of Friday afternoon, Cairo time — four business days before deals with Egypt are due to be discussed — the framework had still not been published by the World Bank. According to the Bank’s own policy of disclosure, the document should be made available for the board to review 10 business days before the meeting, Ekdawi says. After that, it should be made public, usually within two days, in both English and Arabic. Generally, she says, such documents are publicly available seven to eight days before meetings.

Since 2011, the bank has moved on from its promise of a new social contract for development. Now, it claims to work for “peace” and “social stability” in the Middle East. Even within this new paradigm, however, the bank itself is serving as a poor example of transparency for Egypt’s government.

Isabel Esterman 

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