This post is also available in: Arabic
On December 5, 2015, a group of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from different countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) submitted a joint letter to World Bank Group officials (WBG or Bank) regarding the Bank’s MENA regional program implementation of its translation framework. Having the signing support of twenty-five CSOs from Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, and Tunisia, Dr. Yahiya Saleh, head of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOHR), explained in his letter that accessibility to and availability of information is key to effective participation of stakeholders, especially in countries where access to certain information is challenging.
But despite the Bank’s disclosure policy , and its efforts to provide greater accessibility and transparency, translation remains, Saleh added, either limited in scope or difficult to locate.
The letter specifically stated:
“6 years after this commitment was made [in 2009 following a complaint made by Dr. Saleh] letter sent in, we would like revisit this issue because unfortunately, the effort and resources that are spent to provide these documents in the Arabic language have not come to fruition for a very simple reason. Access to these documents through the Bank’s website requires first passing through two lists: a list of projects, and a list of documents available for each project, both of which are only available in English. This represents a serious obstacle for any citizen who is not fluent in English and who would like to access the Arabic documents provided by the Bank. We would like to invite you to use the external World Bank website to check these difficulties – among other shortcomings in accessibility – yourselves.”
While English is the official language of the Bank, the decision by the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors in 2003 to approve the translation framework was seen as departure from previous practices, aiming to encourage wider participation of stakeholders, clients, and communities. Furthermore in 2009, as a result of a complaint filed by YOHR, the MENA regional program at the Bank committed itself to translate into Arabic and post specific types of documents for all its involvement in the region. But to date, accessing these translated materials is not without a challenge, for they are hidden behind a list that is only available in English.
World Bank officials, on their part, recognize the challenge of information inaccessibility, vowing to make needed improvements. In a February 9, 2016 email response by the Office of Executive Director for Middle East and North Africa, Dr. Saleh was thanked for shedding the most light on the issue of information accessibility and was assured that efforts to translate into Arabic all major documents and projects will be augmented. In another email response dated February 18, 2016 by the Bank’s Vice President for Middle East and North Africa, he acknowledged the issue attributing it to a technical problem with the “automated utility that draws projects names and abstracts onto the website,” vowing to ensure greater accessibility and transparency. Furthermore, starting February 2016, according to the Vice President, the Bank launched an internal Policy and Procedural Framework to make certain that major documents and projects are translated into Arabic.
If not addressed, the scarcity of information and the difficulty associated with accessing what is available in Arabic will continue to pose real challenge to effective CSOs engagement and participation.
The World Bank Policy on Access to Information, launched in 2010, which promised to make information publically available, should also include the principle that information must be made accessible, chiefly through translations into relevant languages of the stakeholders, and that should cover as much documents and project lists as possible. Access to information is not a privilege; it is a universal right, as outlined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.