21 Jan 2013

World Bank Publishes Financial Disclosure Law Library

The World Bank has recently set up a Financial Disclosure Law Library with a first-of-its-kind worldwide collection of laws and regulations on disclosure requirements for public officials’ assets and business activities, including income, properties, liabilities, stock holdings, positions outside public office, among other things. According to the World Bank, this new resource aims to help practitioners and policy makers to learn from the experience of other countries and act to improve and strengthen financial disclosure systems.

In launching this initiative, the World Bank has highlighted the importance of financial disclosure systems in the fight against corruption. “Financial disclosure systems make it harder for corrupt officials to hide their criminal activities or ill-gotten wealth,” says Jean Pesme, Manager of Financial Market Integrity at the World Bank. An article by Ivana Rossi and Tanya Blackburn published on the Bank’s blog page also explains that the disclosure of income and assets of public officials is particularly useful for prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of corruption-related crimes. It thus contributes also to improving accountability of public officials and to fostering public trust in institutions by fighting impunity. The authors also mention that efforts to strengthen financial disclosure systems have been boosted by the adoption of the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan and the “High-Level Principles on asset declaration by public officials” at the G20 Los Cabos Summit last year.

The virtual library covers more than 1,000 laws and regulations from 176 jurisdictions. These documents include constitutions, codes, laws, decrees, acts, regulations, orders, rules, etc. in 33 languages. The portal allows users to search information according to topic (such as disclosing officials, information disclosed, restrictions, or enforcement), jurisdiction, region, income level and language.

The information gathered in the online library shows interesting features of financial disclosure systems worldwide, as well as regional disparities. A report published by the  World Bank last year had already pointed out that in some regions, such as Latin America and the Caribbean, over 90% of countries have disclosure systems, whereas in others, such as in the Middle East and North Africa, it is much lower, around 53%. There are also disparities regarding public access to the disclosed information: although 78% of the countries included in the database have some kind of disclosure system, only 43% provide open access to the data. A yet lower percentage systematically makes use of the information to monitor public officials and identify potential irregularities: only 36% check the disclosed information regularly for inconsistencies.

The new law library is an important contribution to comparing and evaluating the implementation of disclosure requirements as a resource in the fight against corruption in different countries. Most importantly, it can lead to improved sharing of best practice and to the identification of deficiencies and gaps to be addressed by policy makers in future reforms.

The picture above is featured in the article “Why do financial disclosure systems matter for corruption?”, by Ivana Rossi and Tanya Blackburn.