Why should the World Bank provide project documents in local languages?

The World Bank has recognized the importance of stakeholder engagement in project design and implementation by including it in its environmental and social framework as a requirement. The Bank should work with borrowing countries to develop project documents in local and official languages to enable meaningful engagement.

Stakeholder engagement in development projects offers civil society and communities an opportunity to contribute to successful project design and implementation, advocate for increased transparency and accountability, and maximize the inclusion of marginalized groups in project benefits. The Bank has recognized the importance of stakeholder engagement by including it in the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), and acknowledges that the timely disclosure of project information in a form and language understandable to project-affected peoples and interested stakeholders is essential to meaningful engagement. Yet, examples from BIC’s partners’ project monitoring, including in Burkina Faso, El Salvador, and Guatemala indicate that the Bank does not always prioritize this.

Specifically, the Bank’s Environmental and Social Standard 10 (ESS10) requires Borrowers to disclose information to stakeholders "in a timeframe that enables meaningful consultations with stakeholders on project design" and "in relevant local languages and in a manner that is accessible and culturally appropriate" (p. 99). It is particularly important that stakeholders have accessible and understandable information about potential project risks and impacts that could affect them.

With the urgency with which COVID-19 response projects are being approved, it is even more crucial for civil society organizations (CSOs) and project-affected communities to access project information in the languages they use and understand. Publishing documents in local and official languages will improve the Bank’s stakeholder engagement.

1. Meaningful stakeholder engagement facilitates marginalized groups’ access to essential services. By understanding project documents, affected communities can more effectively  engage project implementation units in promoting the inclusion of relevant parties in project benefits. Emergency projects provide critically important and life-saving treatments, but speedy design, approval, and implementation can mean that less time is allocated for in-depth assessments, engagement with harder-to-reach stakeholders, and figuring out how to include the most marginalized in project benefits. This makes it all the more important for civil society and affected communities to have the tools to engage with project implementation units and/or their representatives in project design and implementation. Enabling stakeholders to access and understand project information so they can contribute to reporting gaps in assessments, helping to connect project teams with marginalized groups, and identifying gaps in project design is crucial for mitigating potential negative side effects of rapidly prepared projects.

2. Project documents in local and official languages enhance civil society engagement and facilitate their meaningful participation in development projects BIC’s monitoring of COVID-19 response projects demonstrated that contrary to ESF requirements, the Bank and borrowing countries have not prioritized the disclosure of project documents in official languages even though such documents are part of Bank-produced materials that should be publicly accessible to all. This creates an information gap, preventing civil society and affected communities from meaningfully engaging with project implementers, the government, and/or the Bank, limiting their ability to hold these actors accountable.

For example, in Burkina Faso, Plateforme Démocratie Sanitaire et Implication Citoyenne (DES-ICI) is monitoring the Bank’s COVID-19 response project; however, all the disclosed project documents are in English, whereas the official language in Burkina Faso is French. DES-ICI, with BIC’s support, reached out to the Bank task team leaders (TTLs) and the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health to obtain project documents in French but were informed to use the English versions, as those were  the only available official project documents. This limits DES-ICI’s ability to meaningfully discuss project shortcomings with implementers, contribute to risk mitigation measures, and hold the borrowing institution accountable in implementation.

In El Salvador the COVID-19 response project documents are mostly disclosed in English, with the exception of the stakeholder engagement plan (SEP) and the project appraisal document (PAD), which are published in Spanish, the country’s official language. In Guatemala, the Ministry of Health website published the Spanish version of the draft SEP, while the Bank website disclosed the English version. The Bank published the Spanish version of the SEP later only after CSOs submitted an access to information request to the Bank. Stakeholders should not bear the responsibility of placing an access to information request to obtain project information; rather, the Bank should proactively disclose translated versions of project documents on its website. The availability of project documents in Spanish enabled stakeholders to meaningfully engage in consultations and constructive dialogue  with the PIU and the Bank because they knew about the project and how it affects them; this proved useful in moving processes forward and highlighting issues around the exclusion of marginalized groups.

These examples from BIC partners’ engagement in Bank projects indicate that the Bank and borrowing governments have not prioritized the disclosure of project documents in languages that are accessible and understandable to project stakeholders. The Bank should work with borrowing governments to disclose translated versions of project documents, so they can collaborate with communities to mitigate project risks and prioritize inclusion of marginalized groups.